Competing on Price?

What Lawyers Can Learn from Apple When Setting Billing Rates  

By | Oct.16.17 | Billing, Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Fees

Last month, Apple unveiled its new iPhone X to much fanfare. Perhaps what created the most fanfare was its price. It starts at $999 — hundreds more than the older iPhone 7 and the brand-new iPhone 8.

You don’t need a Ph.D. in Economics to understand the logic behind Apple’s pricing strategy. It’s simple. Apple hopes that for many, owning a high-priced phone will become a status symbol, much like owning a luxury car. In short, having an iPhone X broadcasts prestige, prominence and stature.

Billable Rates and Quality

Can a lawyer’s hourly rate broadcast prestige, prominence and stature? As the residents of my home state of Minnesota like to say, “Yah, you betcha!”

In my humble opinion, way too many attorneys want to compete on price. Myriad lawyers believe charging below-market hourly rates provides a competitive advantage. What they fail to remember — and what Apple never forgets — is that price signals quality. A below-market rate can signal lack of quality.

Back in the day when I was an in-house lawyer and regularly hiring outside counsel, my response to a low hourly rate quote was never, “Wow! This guy’s really cheap. I gotta hire him.” Rather, it was, “Geez, this guy must not think much of his abilities if he’s charging so little. I’m going to pass on him.”

During lunches with other in-house counsel, we frequently would talk about the outside lawyers we worked with. Most of the bitching and moaning was about poor client service, not high hourly rates. Indeed, some of my colleagues would even brag about the high hourly rates their company was paying some of its lawyers. In other words, “My company hires the best and we prove it by the rates we pay.”

High Rates in This Environment?

By the way, I don’t live in a bubble. I am well aware that outside legal budgets are being slashed and discounts offered more than ever. However, all clients still want value. The best lawyers still provide excellent value even with above market rates. Just ask any company hiring Wall Street lawyers at rates well above $1,000 per hour.

Upgrading to an iPhone X? Consider Upgrading Your Rates, Too!

Full disclosure: I own an iPhone 7. Like many iPhone owners, I am trying to decide whether to upgrade. If I do, it will likely be for the iPhone X. Why? Because I want the best Apple has to offer; its high price will hardly be a deterrent. In fact, the high price is attractive and psychologically convinces me it’s not only significantly better than previous iPhones, but also better than any phone on the market.

The lesson lawyers can learn from the iPhone X? Don’t be afraid to charge an hourly rate that’s above market. It subtly (and not so subtly) tells the world you think you’re pretty darned good at what you do. It also exudes confidence.

And after all, who doesn’t want to hire a confident lawyer?

Roy S. Ginsburg is an attorney coach and law firm consultant who has practiced law for more than 30 years. He works with individual lawyers and law firms nationwide in the areas of business development, practice management, career development, and strategic and succession planning. Learn more at www.royginsburg.com.

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