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From the Client's Perspective: How I Wish My Lawyer Would Talk about Money

Posted by Emery Wager on August 7, 2020
Emery Wager

I’ve put it off all week, but the time has come. I need to pay our law firm. They do great work and have helped protect our company during difficult times. But paying their bill is not a pleasurable experience.

I scratch my head trying to determine which invoices to pay. I review my notes about all the agreed-upon prices for each project. What’s a matter, and why do we have three? Why don’t they just put everything on one invoice? Why does this one need to go to a trust account. What’s a trust account? Finally, it’s all done. Thirty minutes I’ll never get back.

I started working at Gravity Payments seven years ago, helping with finance, M&A, business development and corporate governance. Over the years, I have paid millions of dollars in legal fees to outside counsel. This week on Financially Legal, attorney and Gravity Legal team member, Dan Lear, interviewed eight lawyers about how they talk to clients about money. This post, however, is focused on the client perspective. Below are five strategies that I, as the client, have found most helpful when communicating about money with outside counsel.

  1. Overestimate. I understand the value of good legal protection. I’ve experienced the downside of being unprepared, and I’m willing to pay for quality. It’s the surprises that hurt. Aim high and come in low.
  2. More flat fee work, please. To the extent projects can be “chunked” into flat fee work, I greatly appreciate this. It makes everything more straightforward and reduces the chance of surprises (see above).
  3. Timely billing. Taking notes on project cost estimates and having to recall those notes several months later is a pain. On-time billing makes it much easier to manage the cost estimates and ensure we are on track.
  4. Talk more frequently about money. I always appreciate this email, especially if it’s unsolicited: “Here’s how much we’ve spent so far, and here’s the work that still needs to be done. This is what I expect it to cost.” This type of transparency and proactivity makes a big difference.
  5. Technology backup. This is the self-serving section, but if I didn’t think it was important, I wouldn’t have helped build Gravity Legal. After all the back-and-forth about fees and money, I want to be done with it - quickly and painlessly. The process of paying is an important aspect of the conversation about money. If you don’t have a simple online payment platform optimized for mobile devices (especially in consumer-facing practice areas), I would highly recommend it.

Listening to this week’s episode of Financially Legal, it was eye-opening to see the challenges lawyers face when speaking with clients about money. Neither the attorney, nor the client enjoys talking about money, but in my experience the best attorney/client relationships are the ones where we’ve talked about money more, not less.

Topics: Firm Financials, Business and Culture, Business of Law

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