“Making” Clients pay your bill. . .

On a recent blog discussion over at My Shingle one of the other participants wrote the following in respone to a comment by me:

"You are not disagreeing that the legal services purchaser can be made to pay $150/hour even to a solo. . . "–and yes, the solo will be doing well to "profit" (pocket) 2/3 of that, and said solo will be lucky to have 1,000 to 1,200 collectible hours–making said solo’s gross (pre expense, pre tax) income $150,000 to perhaps $180,000."

Relevant parts of my response to him (or her, the comment was anonymous): 

Anon., I may be reading too much into your last comment, but I am a little concerned about the sentence you wrote "could be made to pay $150/hour."  Probably you were just writing casually & most likely I’m just reading too far into your choice of words, but let me just encourage you to try & get into the habit of thinking in terms of the amount of value you can deliver, not the amount that clients can be "made" to pay.  The latter way of thinking usually leads to big a/r problems & doesn’t make for a fun law practice. 

Clients can’t be "made" to pay anything.  All we can do is implement good management techniques & learn how to use our trust accounts like the profit-protecting management tools they are designed to be.  But at the end of the day, the client won’t pay your bill for $150/hour or $15/hour if you don’t demonstrate that they got value.

Like I said, I’m not trying to give you a hard time for what is probably just a different choice of words. Delivering value is a subject that’s important to me so I get kinda touchy.

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I worked at a top ad agency for 5 years before retiring to raise my kids and start freelancing.
I’ve a client who convinced me to do some ads for free in return for the promise of future work. There hasn’t been any “future work” in 3 years.
The client recently asked me to “bang out an ad” for a newspaper. I told him my rate. He said he could have his secretary do it for free-she’d done a previous ad and he’d like to show it to me. How do I convince him I’m a pro who can’t work for free without sounding like a snob?


Hi Renae,
Been there, fallen for that! It seems the bigger the potential budget they have to spend, the more rudely & crudely the prospective client is to use the lure of that budget to extract free work.
Notice I avoided referring to the person in question as your “client” because what they are is only a “prospect”.
At this point in the relationship, it seems like you have nothing to lose. After 3 years it’s time to set some boundaries. Here’s what I would do. . .
1. Clarify whether he’s asking you to review the secretary’s work because he wants to rub it in your face, or if he’s seeking honest feedback? If it’s the latter, proceed to step 2.
2. Review the secretary’s work honestly & objectively. Make a list of all the mistakes, oversights, shortcomings, etc. Avoid opinions & stick to objective facts. If you do need to offer an opinion be sure you have evidence or at least a clear explanation & not just a “gut feeling”.
3. Schedule an appointment for a sales call with the prospect to review the secretary’s work, without the secretary being there, of course. Be sure that when you schedule the appointment you follow the steps outlined in “How To Close Every Sales Call” and set yourself up for success by scheduling an Honest Appointment.
4. At that appointment make it clear that you are not trying to be critical of the secretary’s work, but rather he asked you for your opinion so here it is.
5. During the Sales Call, begin by clarifying how much the client intends to spend placing the ads & what kind of dollar return he hopes to get. Then explain all the positive things you found about the ad. Be honest & objective. If it turns out the secretary has a knack for doing ad work, then he is lucky & you likely won’t ever get him for a client. . . until the secretary is too busy being a secretay. But be equally honest & objective about the problems you find.
6. Conclude the meeting by connecting the dots between his supposed “savings” and how much he spent vs. the return he has measured on the ad.
This may not result in the prospect making the “right” decision in the future. That’s how it goes, sometimes.
Also, the next time this person calls, and by that time you will know if he is either a real prospect or just a freeloader, you can graciously decline citing other committments.