3/21/11

The Value of Non-Lawyers in Client Fee Conversations


When lawyers talk about Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) they usually want to know: 1) Which one works?, and 2) What is the number? When I get this "silver bullet" question, I always reply with the same answer. There is no silver bullet AFA - the real secret of AFAs is talking to the client. This conversation needs to be a give-and-take dialog, where firm lawyers actually do most of the listening.
As you might guess, lawyers don't like to hear this answer. They want something simple and straight forward. Peeling back the layers, the main reason they want a simple answer is because they don't like to talk to clients about fees. This type of conversation is outside their comfort zone, in part, since it makes them feel they are in an adversarial position with the client. The reality is that these conversations put them in full alignment with the client's best interest. Failing to talk about fees is a recipe for conflict and problems with your client.
This is where the non-lawyer, fee expert can have their highest value. Including them in the conversation with the client can erase the fears of talking about fees. First off, a non-lawyer is in a position to freely discuss fees and fee concerns with the client. Not being the client's advocate allows a more open and straight-forward discussion about fees. Questions focused on fee concerns and fee pressures the client has are easy to surface. Just as importantly, a non-lawyer brings a second set of ears to the discussion. It's been my experience that in these conversations I hear different aspects of client answers to fee questions, and many times catch nuances of their concerns that lawyers miss or don't see the importance of.
The lessons here are two-fold. First, there is high value in having these fee conversations with clients. Since many of these clients are lawyers by training and experience, they have not been engaging in these dialogs. As such, they greatly appreciate the concern and conversation. Second, bringing someone to the table without an interest in the legal issues and with an ability to discuss this subject, makes these open conversations possible.
Any firm or lawyer wanting to prosper in this emerging, competitive environment would do well to include non-lawyers in fee conversations with their clients. Even separate from alternative fee situations, this proactive approach will impress the clients and give your firm new insights into clients’ buying decisions.

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