On an obviously slow news Monday, the Wall Street Journal front page touts “Law Firms Face Fresh Backlash Over Fees.” Jennifer Smith reports on the “widespread revolt” over big bills for “legal miscellany.” I can tell you that there is nothing new in this news from much of the last decade. But it does allow me the chance to once again discuss the issue of nickel and diming clients–often those that are paying seven figure invoices based simply on billable time.
Is this a marketing issue? It sure can be. While many in big law won’t change things anytime soon, small, midsize and boutique law firms recognize that this provides an opportunity to offer up a “differentiating factor” in selling its legal services. Often lost in price comparisons are the costs that go beyond the billable hour, depositions and filing fees. Those extra costs–planes, trains and automobiles; hotels, dinners, legal research and copying–can inflate the final tally by quite a lot. It is like looking at the $25/day rental car rate, only to find the actual cost to be around $70 after taxes and related charges.
All I know is that when I meet litigation friends in Philadelphia, often in town for a matter in federal court, we are usually getting together at the Four Seasons. Dining ranges from Morimoto to Buddakan; Morton’s to the Fountain. When you are working hard and traveling extensively, I’m not suggesting that we treat ourselves to anything less than first class accommodations. Unless, of course, the corporate counsel is staying at the Marriott. It is important to get a feel for the travel policies of your clients, and come in even or lower. There is nothing more damaging than outclassing the guy or gal that hired you during a trial. And when you get less work later, nobody will ever tell you why–the GC will just remember it when glancing at the final bill.