I once proposed raising our hourly rates and was met with furious resistance by the head of our litigation department who assured me that no assessment officer would ever permit lawyers to charge the amounts that I had proposed. He was a brilliant litigator and he was completely correct. However, he was not much of a businessperson and had not considered how rarely our accounts were assessed. I was more than willing to lose all of the assessments and rake in the extra dollars on more than 99% of our files.
The other day I heard a story about a furniture store in Toronto that was known to cater to the wealthy. The owner purchased an unusual item in Vietnam for twenty dollars. He brought it back to his store and promoted it as a one-of-a-kind item from an exotic destination. He sold it to someone with more money than brains for $10,000. The person who told me the story swears that she has fifth-hand knowledge of the incident and that it is absolutely true. Having shopped in that store once, I do not doubt it.
Welcome to the concept of value billing. Things are worth what people are willing to pay for them.
“Fools believe silence is a void needing to be filled; the wise understand there’s no such thing as silence.”
Michael J. Sullivan, Age of Myth
Client: Why do I want to pay for two lawyers to be in this meeting?
Sometimes clients call lawyers and announce what their legal budget is for a proposed project. New lawyers sometimes struggle to handle the situation because the scope of the work is uncertain or the proposed budget is insufficient to do the job properly.
Some years ago I went off on a cruise and took the opportunity to have some renovations done at my house while I was away. George did a great job on the drywall, but when he sent me the invoice, he made one tiny little mistake. Instead of giving me the invoice for the construction work, he sent me an invoice for his “other business” which, unbeknownst to me, was producing racy videos. He was quite embarrassed when I asked him what a “panty teaser” was and what it had to do with my ceiling. I never did find out whether my house was the setting for his cinematographic masterpiece.
When I practised law in Mississauga, Ont., our fees were cheap compared to the Toronto firms, and kind of expensive compared to firms in places like Guelph, Belleville and Kingston. I occasionally wondered whether my clients might prefer to deal with firms in smaller cities at lower rates. Then I would reassure myself that doing so would be terribly inconvenient for them and that they would rather pay more to deal with me.
Now I am not so sure.
Many years ago, Maurice called me to complain about a legal bill that he had received. Fortunately, it was not me who had drawn his ire, although I was his primary legal counsel.
Maurice’s accountant had convinced him to go to a meeting with Peter, a very sophisticated tax lawyer, to discuss something called the ‘Quebec Shuffle.’
Near the end of my career, at a time when I frequently congratulated myself (since no one else would listen) about how brilliant I was at dealing with clients, I lost a long-standing client who I will call Charles. I should have fired Charles years before and was holding onto for some twisted sentimental reason.
Long ago, when it came to billing, lawyers addressed precedents in one of two ways: