Lawyers have been able to create a mystique around the provision of legal services and, as a result, lawyers have generally dictated the manner in which legal services are provided, the type of legal services that are available, and the price payable for the legal services provided.
Commencing in Law School, lawyers have been taught that theirs is a noble profession, above such tawdry matters as marketing themselves or selling their services like wares in a store. At SMP, while we also believe that lawyers belong to a noble profession, we do not believe that this “professionalism” allows us to ignore the basic rules of the marketplace. We proudly state that we are in the business of selling legal services and we are more than happy to enter into discussions with our clients so both parties understand exactly what services the client needs, how those services will be delivered, and how those services will be priced. Being open, transparent, and honest about these matters does not make us less professional. Rather, we believe that our approach makes us more effective and more efficient while vastly improving our relationships with our clients.
In our view, at its most basic level, the lawyer-client relationship must be defined by a shared understanding of the following matters:
- What is being purchased?
Some lawyers sell time much like an employee who is paid by the hour. While there may be a general understanding of the services being purchased by the client, everything is predicated upon the time spent by lawyers (and in some cases paralegals) on the file. Obviously, this is not the optimum way in which to purchase legal services but, in situations in which the time required from a lawyer cannot be controlled or accurately predicted by the lawyer, this may be the only reasonable solution. Having said that, selling legal services based primarily upon time recorded discourages efficiency and effective delegation by lawyers and therefore should be avoided where possible. We prefer to sell our legal services in terms of achieving the desired result or producing the required work product. In all cases though, it is imperative that the lawyer and the client are on the same page when it comes to their understanding of what exactly is being purchased and sold.
- What services will be rendered?
Services should be defined in terms of both quality and quantity. Obviously, it would be unwise to pay a lawyer simply for spending time on a file without understanding what work is being done during that time both in terms of quality and quantity. For example, does the client need customized documentation or will a fairly standard contract or will do the trick? What level of knowledge and expertise does the client need? It makes no sense to pay a senior lawyer to provide legal services that can competently be provided by a junior lawyer. Finally, if the scope of services can be accurately defined then there should be some ability to accurately predict the cost of those services and, in such circumstances, a client should not be reluctant to ask for a quote of fees up front.
- How are the services priced/valued?
Beyond just paying an agreed hourly rate for time recorded by a lawyer on a file (which is both the most simple and the most inaccurate measure of value) it is our view that, in most circumstances, it is possible for a lawyer to bill for legal services based upon the idea of value billing. However, in order for this to be effective, there must be a consensus between the lawyer and client as to how to define value. As with most aspects of a healthy relationship, this requires that both parties effectively communicate to ensure a mutual understanding with regards to what services are being purchased and how those services will be delivered. Understanding expectations is the key and, for this to occur, there must be open and honest communication between the parties. In our best client relationships, we are constantly discussing and defining what the client should reasonably expect and what is valuable to a client both in terms of work product and results achieved. Having established this communication, we are then able to become an effective and valuable part of our client’s team.
Business relationships are based upon mutual trust as much as they are based upon proper legal documentation. Great business relationships are also based upon effective communication creating certainty of expectations, deliverables, and costs. We don’t believe that the client/lawyer relationship should be any different.
To learn more about our unique approach to client service, please reach out to our Swainson Miki Peskett LLP team.
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