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Pricing

An Alternative to Charging Rush Rates

The Conundrum of the Urgent Client Matter

By Bruce Hennes

Crisis consultant Bruce Hemmes says when pricing legal services, consider adding rush rates for off-hours.

I sympathized with Ruth Carter when reading “Adding Rush Rates for Legal Services.” Our firm specializes in crisis work, so we’re frequently dealing with clients seeking immediate help for a breaking issue, just as Ruth is. But we solved our problem of dealing with “urgent” assignments in a different way than Ruth: We instituted a premium for helping clients outside normal work hours. But first, I must digress.

Hennes Communications was founded in Cleveland in 1989 as a full-service public relations firm. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, we decided to stop offering general PR services and instead narrowly focus on crisis communications. At that time, few people outside Fortune 1000 companies knew about this subspecialty. Within a year, business tripled and 21 years later, we are one of the few firms in North America focused exclusively on crisis communications, handling about 180 clients a year.

The Cost of 24/7 Service

Because of the demands of our specialty, we promise clients that our staff will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That said, barring catastrophic accidents, worksite explosions, sudden deaths and similar events, most of the work we handle typically occurs during the workday. Over the years, however, we began to notice an uptick in clients who would reach out to us late Friday afternoon, with an issue that needed to be resolved immediately. Often, these were issues that could have been addressed days if not weeks earlier. We suspected we were simply at the bottom of the week’s to-do list and our client just hadn’t gotten around to calling us.

True to our pledge, we would always begin work on the Friday afternoon issue immediately – often spending many weekend hours helping our client to the detriment of family and personal commitments.

Work-life balance? We had none.

So five years ago, we began telling new clients that we were instituting a new fee structure.

We Began Charging Premium Fees

From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., our regular hourly rates apply. Between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., we add $50 an hour — and on weekends and holidays, our rates go up $100 an hour. With just one single objection, every new client since then has signed our engagement letter spelling this fee structure out in plain English.

We didn’t do this to raise revenues.

And over the years, the revenue gain has been marginal because if we’re working past 7 p.m. or on the weekend because we didn’t get the work done earlier when we really should have, we don’t trigger the premium rate.

What we did get was a better work-life balance.

We still get calls at 4 p.m. that necessitate working late into the night and weekend calls from time to time. But because of our new rate structure, rarely do we have clients calling on Thursday or Friday asking us to produce work product by early Monday morning. And if the chemical plant has a spill on a Sunday morning, well, no one really worries about the hourly rate.

Due to the nature of our work, we receive over 60% of our referrals from attorneys — and almost every day is spent with attorneys, many of whom complain about the work they had to do late at night or over the weekend. Often, we’ll mention our rate structure and the change it has made in our lives. Almost always they reply that their clients would never accept that. If they call at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening and they want something done by Sunday, they have to do it.

Yes, they do.

But as Ruth Carter pointed out, if you’re going to live life at the whim of clients, you might as well get paid well (or perhaps better) for the work you’re doing.

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Bruce Hennes Bruce Hennes

Bruce Hennes is CEO of Hennes Communications (@crisiscomm), focused only on crisis communications.  With a client list that includes Goodyear, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Avery Dennison and Ohio University, Hennes serves over 180 clients a year — including scores of law firms and their clients.  Bruce currently serves on the board of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and is an adjunct professor at Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs. Recently, he was named a “Go-To Thought Leader” by the National Law Review and, for the third year in a row, Bruce was named to the Lawdragon 100 Leading Consultants and Strategists. He has also been named three times by Cleveland Magazine to their list of the 500 Most Powerful People in Northeast Ohio. For a gratis subscription to Crisis Management Today, send your email to hennes@crisiscommunications.com.

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