For any lawyer in private practice, business development is a primary concern. In 2021, in fact, small firm lawyers reported that client acquisition was a top challenge.
Much of that challenge undoubtedly stems from the prices lawyers charge for their services.
Perhaps clients have a reason to balk at attorney fees – those fees have increased at twice the rate of inflation since the 1990s. Meanwhile, their potential clients are operating in an economy that is anything but certain.
Nonetheless, conversations about fees have to happen, and that means you have to be able to convince potential clients of your overall value. Here are some of the best ways for you to do that:
Talk about value when you talk about fees
The first thing to notice about this article is that we’re talking about value, not dollar signs. We’re not here to justify your $500 per hour rate, nor are we here to try to convince you to lower your rate to $100 per hour.
Rather, we’re suggesting that whatever your rate is, you should be communicating with clients about how and why your services provide them with a certain value.
For example, maybe you’re a brand-new lawyer with a solo practice. While you may not provide clients with the depth of experience of a senior lawyer, your fees are probably much lower than those of more seasoned attorneys. The savings they get from hiring you equates to value.
Conversely, perhaps you have 20 years of experience in a highly specialized area of the law. While your fees are likely at the top end of the spectrum, chances are your niche expertise creates value that clients are willing to pay for.
It’s up to you to identify — and believe in — your own unique value.
Offer value that is in line with your confidence
Once you understand the value that you bring to the table, it is important that you can communicate that value with confidence.
For some attorneys, that will be easy; confidence is like second nature to them. For many attorneys, however, communicating confidence with respect to fees is a whole different ball game.
The good news is, projecting confidence about your rates is just like projecting confidence in any other area of your practice. There are tried-and-true steps you can take to seem more confident even when you’re still a little shaky on the inside.
Remember that your level of confidence is an important factor in convincing a new client that you’re worth the money you’re about to charge them. If you believe you’re worth it, they probably will too.
Value yourself in the process
People tend to think of lawyers as being incredibly self-assured. That’s not the case for every lawyer, however.
Indeed, many lawyers who come from less-than-traditional legal backgrounds have struggled with imposter syndrome (including some legal powerhouses like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor).
Predictably, that can manifest in things like you not believing you’re worth the hourly fee charged for your services.
Fortunately, like confidence, self-value is another skill you can practice and improve upon.
You may have heard this before when it comes to relationships or other areas of your life, but if you don’t value yourself, others probably won’t fully value you either. So let’s put self-valuation at the top of your to-do list.
Be able to explain the consequences of not hiring you
The truth is, not everyone with a legal problem needs a lawyer. There are some simple legal processes that can be handled with a good search engine and a large glass of wine.
For many legal issues, however, having a lawyer is critical. It’s up to you to be able to explain this to the potential client.
One of the best ways to do that is to lay out for them exactly what could go wrong without your legal expertise.
For example, maybe their potential financial liability is far greater than the costs they will incur by hiring you. Maybe that liability increases exponentially if they don’t handle discovery requests properly (like offering up privileged information in a deposition where they aren’t defended by an attorney).
The opportunities for the uninitiated to screw up a legal matter are endless. You just need to communicate those risks to your potential client in a way that enhances your value to them.
Be prepared to reject bad clients
Much of this article is focused on the idea that lawyers need to understand their own value in order to communicate that value to a potential client. All of this, of course, is based on the presumption that a lawyer is always trying to land any client that knocks on the door.
That’s not necessarily the case.
Bad clients – those who continually fight with you about your fees or demand more attention than necessary – can actually diminish your overall value as a lawyer. They waste your time, stress you out, and make you less available to your great clients.
All of that can hurt your practice, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.
Ultimately, communicating with potential clients about costs, fees, and your value is a skill that will improve with time and practice. The key to success, it seems, is to first convince yourself of your intrinsic value.