Introducing Guest Blogger Jeremie Fortenberry –
Jeramie Fortenberry is the founder of Fortenberry Legal, a law firm that helps clients from across the United States with estate planning and probate matters. He writes about trusts, estates, and tax planning at the Probate Lawyer blog.
Billing makes me uncomfortable. When I first started practicing law (at that time with a big firm), I felt sheepish to even broach the topic with clients. It seemed uncouth to start talking about money right when I was in the process of establishing what I hoped to be a lasting relationship. Because of my reluctance to discuss fees on the front end, I relied on my engagement letter to set expectations regarding pricing. My hourly rate was buried somewhere in the letter, along with information about how time was computed and how often I would invoice. That, I thought, should be enough to deal with the uncomfortable issue of how I would be paid for my services.
Those of you who have tried this know how the story often ends. A client expects a $700.00 invoice but gets a $2,500.00 invoice. In the best circumstances, the client would call to discuss the fees. More likely, the client would either (a) drop out of sight without paying the bill or (b) pay the bill, then drop out of sight. Either way, the relationship was over.
When I started my own practice, I knew that something had to change. I began experimenting with value pricing and alternative billing structures. But more importantly, I changed the way I communicate with clients regarding fees. Today, I never have complaints regarding my bills and have an almost 100 percent collection rate. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned: