A recent article by Shannon Green of Corporate Counsel magazine caught my eye with regard to billing arrangements. In the article, Shannon summarizes a panel discussion on project management at a Legal Marketing Association event held recently at Latham & Watkins’ office in New York. See here.
Michael Caplan, director of operations for the office of the general counsel at Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc., said, “the biggest misunderstanding law firms have about their clients is thinking that they are first and foremost focused on reducing costs. To general counsel and CEOs…predictability is more crucial…the billable hour at companies like ours is dead.”
The rest of the article goes on to outline the advantages of using project management to achieve the above goals for clients, and the need to budget carefully the amount of staffing required to do the job to avoid write-offs for the law firm.
Nat Slavin, founding partner of law firm consultancy Wicker Park Group, noted that “It is mind-numbing to keep up with the different needs of clients, but you have to do it, he said, adding that when it comes to managing a project for a client,”One size fits one.”
What I observe is that every client has unique needs, whether it’s how they want their project managed or how they want to be billed. Some clients are looking for cost certainty and fixed fee billing, while others are happy with hourly billing as long as law firms communicate with them regularly and alert them if hours are projected to go beyond original estimates.
Since clients value different things, it’s necessary to find out exactly what the client values up front, whether it’s cost certainty, turnaround time, etc. Then you can construct an alternative fee agreement or hourly billing estimate that meets their unique needs. Most importantly, you should give the clients a choice of how they can be billed, whether on a fixed fee or hourly basis, or a combination thereof. There is no one size fits all as far as client demands go on billing arrangements.