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NOTHING BUT THE RUTH!

Adding Rush Rates for Legal Services

Charging More to Drop-Everything-and-Fix-This

By Ruth Carter

As lawyers, we are in a service industry. However, I suspect most of us did not sign up to be on call to provide legal services 24-7.

I’ll admit I’m a bit neurotic and controlling. I have an, at times, overwhelming caseload and I use systems (yes, plural) that help me prioritize and juggle my clients’ numerous projects. Driving into the office each morning, I want to know which client projects I’ll be working on and what I’ll likely accomplish.

So it’s frustrating when a client drops a crisis into my lap, forcing me to rearrange my priorities and address their needs. It may be equally frustrating for other clients if I’ve created expectations for when I will complete their projects.

After dealing with a number of dumpster-fire crises last year, particularly those caused, at least in part, by one of my clients, I was motivated to create a special, higher “rush” rate for these exigent situations.

For clarification, my main practice areas are business and intellectual property. I work on an hourly basis and clearly disclose my rates in my engagement agreements. Some other practice areas, like criminal law, may perpetually operate on a “rush” basis, and others on contingency.

What to Call this “Rush” Rate?

For weeks, I mulled over what to call this rate. At first, I referred to it as a “rush” rate, but I was cautioned against this because it could suggest that I rushed through the client’s work, which might make them doubt the work’s quality.

What is the right word for drop-everything-and-fix-this?

Is it “urgent?” Is it “expedite?” Is there another word I should consider?

I kicked this question out to my friends, and several of them suggested “emergency.” I resisted this idea because I didn’t want to get into debates over what is and is not an emergency. “Priority” and “premium” were also suggested. My favorite suggestion was an “unf*ckening charge.” But, while it is descriptively accurate, it’s not professional enough for practicing law.

Ultimately, I went with “urgent” due to the urgent nature of the client’s need.

I’m a Lawyer, Not Disneyland

Terms like “expedite” suggest that a client can choose to pay more to move their matter to the front of the line. It’s also the exact reason I quickly dismissed the suggestions of “Fast Pass” and “Ruth Prime.”

The urgent rate is for matters that are truly urgent, and not merely in the client’s opinion or perspective. I also did not want to create a system where my wealthier clients could jump to the front of the line simply because they could afford it. I’m a lawyer, not Disneyland. While I am a service provider, I am not at any client’s beck and call.

Also, if I were ever to consider offering such a service option, I’d charge a lot more than what I’m charging for my urgent rate.

How I Told My Clients About Adding Rush Rates

On the last Monday of November, I sent a mass email to all the clients I’ve worked with since 2018, except for the few who are on my blackball list. I also used this email to tell them I was raising my standard rate from $275 to $300/hour in 2022. I wanted to be clear without sounding like a jerk. Here’s how I told them about the urgent rate:

In 2022, I’ll also be instituting an “urgent” rate. A friend suggested I use a Latin word for this, so you can call it “urgente” if you’re so inclined. Urgent matters are those that require immediate attention, such as a client who tells me on Wednesday that they have a filing due to the court by Friday. These are drop-everything-and-put-out-this-fire issues. My urgent rate will be $400/hour.

For clarification, a client cannot elect to use the urgent rate to bump their non-emergency matter to the front of the line. As I told my friends, I’m a lawyer, not Disneyland. This is not a Fast Pass or Ruth Prime. On the contrary, I expect urgent matters to be few and far between.

How My Clients Reacted

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of the responses I received:

  • “Boundaries. Good for you.”
  • “Wonderful decisions! Congratulations!”
  • “The ‘Rush’ rate is brilliant! [My co-owner] thinks we should utilize that as well.”

During the weekend following this announcement, one of my clients called and asked me to draw up a simple contract on a Saturday for a pressing matter, and she voluntarily offered to pay the “urgent rate” for this weekend work. I did the work and charged my standard rate because my urgent rate was not in effect yet; however, I was pleased to hear that the client accepted and respected that last-minute requests would come with a higher price tag moving forward.

Reality Check: Having an Urgent Rate Will Not Prevent Dumpster Fires

While I hope having an urgent rate will motivate clients to be more thoughtful and call me before a situation turns into a crisis, I don’t expect it to happen.

In every service industry and every trade, there will always be people who will try to DIY their solution and make the situation worse before calling the professional. It happens across the board, from plumbing to medicine to law. And, as with after-hours plumbing calls and trips to the ER and urgent care, the only thing having an urgent rate will do is compensate me (and the firm) for having to drop everything and help my client.

Related Posts and Resources on Legal Fees

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Ruth B. Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at UndeniableRuth.com and tweets @rbcarter.

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