It’s getting to be that time of year when lawyers decide whether to raise their hourly rates or fixed fees when the new year begins. I suspect that many will fear doing so in the middle of a pandemic. Others always seem fearful of increasing legal fees, pandemic or no pandemic. My advice — with very limited exceptions — is to go for it. Clients are never as price-sensitive as you think.
The Two Biggest Reasons Lawyers Are Afraid to Raise Legal Fees
Reason No. 1: Fear of Losing Business to Competitors
Do you really think your long-term clients are going to abandon you because of a modest price increase? Every other business has been raising the price of goods and services. Take this headline from a few weeks ago, for instance:
“Netflix U.S. Price Hikes Could Boost 2021 Revenue by $500M Even With Subscriber Cancellations, Analysts Say”
Netflix is raising the monthly fee of its most popular tier from $12.99 to $13.99 per month. So what does Netflix know that you don’t?
For starters, Netflix knows that its customer base is loyal. Further, it is confident that, even with the newer competition from the likes of Apple and Disney, its consistent quality content will keep the vast majority of subscribers satisfied. They aren’t going anywhere.
Will you lose some clients if you raise your rates? Probably. But who cares? The good clients who recognize the value of your services won’t abandon you. Plus, overall, your bottom line will increase. Just like Netflix, you will come out ahead.
Will some clients complain? Probably. But they are likely the same ones who would complain about your bills anyway. And they still stick around. Stop thinking you’re smarter than the finance folks at Netflix when it comes to setting rates.
Reason No. 2: Fear of Missing Out on New Clients
While there are myriad ways to market legal services, digital or otherwise, most lawyers still get the vast majority of their new clients the old-fashioned way: referrals from former clients or other lawyers and professionals.
Referred clients, in particular, aren’t as price-sensitive as you think. Someone has already vouched for the quality of your services. These clients only want your fee to be in the ballpark of what they’re willing to pay.
The clients looking for the cheapest legal services don’t rely on referrals. They rely on Google.
So, by all means, this is no time to be shy about rates for your new clients. Referred clients will still retain you.
Still Not Convinced? Consider This Hypothetical
Ponder this hypothetical from a time when prospective clients physically visited attorneys.
Debbie walks into Karen’s office wanting a divorce. Debbie has never hired a lawyer …
Karen is a family law attorney with 20 years of experience. She practices in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area where family attorneys bill between $200 per hour for newbies and the mid-to-upper $300s for an experienced few. Most attorneys bill a bit below or a bit above $300.
Debbie went to Karen because her best friend had hired Karen 10 years ago and had only good things to say about her. Like most new clients, Debbie has no idea what it will cost, but remembered her friend saying years ago that “getting divorced is not cheap.”
Karen never wants to lose clients because of her hourly rate. Her hourly rate is $225. She is well aware that’s below market compared with most competitors and significantly below market from comparably experienced lawyers. She doesn’t care. She is convinced she is smarter than her competitors.
After Karen explains to Debbie what to expect during the divorce process, Debbie asks, “How much will this cost me?” Karen responds, “I charge by the hour and my rate is $225 per hour.” Upon hearing that, Debbie thinks to herself, “Wow. My friend wasn’t kidding. Getting divorced is not cheap.”
Let’s fast-forward one month. Karen has spent 10 hours getting papers filed and analyzing financial information about Debbie and her spouse. She sends a bill totaling $2,250. Upon receiving the bill, Debbie once again thinks to herself, “Wow. My friend wasn’t kidding. Getting divorced is not cheap.”
Now let’s roll the tape back to the initial meeting, but let’s increase Karen’s hourly rate.
What do you think Debbie’s response would be upon hearing that Karen’s rate was $300 per hour? Most likely, “Wow. My friend wasn’t kidding. Getting divorced is not cheap.”
How about when she receives the first bill of $3,000? Here, again, “Wow. My friend wasn’t kidding. Getting divorced is not cheap.”
Remember, Debbie was referred to Karen. She’s not shopping around. She simply wants a fair and reasonable rate. To most people, $225 per hour is a lot of money; so is $300.
Debbie will never think to herself if charged $225, “I’m thrilled that I retained Karen. She is saving me so much money!” She will only think, whether charged $225 or $300 per hour, “Wow. My friend wasn’t kidding. Getting divorced is not cheap.”
Whether your referred clients are walking through your office door or picking up the phone or meeting with you virtually, the expectation is always the same. Good lawyers are expensive. The public knows it and the public expects it.
When people need a lawyer, they recognize they aren’t shopping at Walmart with “always low prices.” They expect it to cost a lot. As I sometimes joke with my coaching clients, “Don’t disappoint them.”
Raising Rates Is Good Business
I’ve been coaching and consulting now for more than 15 years. I give all types of marketing, practice management and strategic/succession planning advice. I will be the first to admit that there are times when my advice is simply a good, educated guess based on my judgment and experience. And I admit that I could get it wrong on occasion.
This is not true when it comes to recommendations about raising your legal fees. This is virtually the only advice I give clients with 100% confidence that I am right. It is not a good, educated guess. It is simply a good business decision that will always enhance the bottom line.
If you don’t raise rates, you will be leaving money on the table by not charging more competitively. It’s foolish to believe otherwise.
Related Articles on Attorney at Work:
“When to Raise Your Rates?” by Ruth Carter
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