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April 27, 2007

Rule Eight: Think Like the Client--Help Control Costs.

Rule Eight: Think Like The Client--Help Control Costs. (See the first 7 rules 1-6 here and 7 here).

Ask any associate lawyer or paralegal what a "profit" is.

You will get two kinds of answers. Both answers are "correct"--but neither of them helps anyone in your firm think like the client.

The answers will be something like this: (1) "A profit is money remaining after deducting costs from receipts." This is the correct young transactional/tax lawyer answer. Or (2) "it's money left over at the end of the hunt." This is the correct fire-breathing young litigator answer.

The right answer?

A profit is a reward for being efficient. And until a lawyer, paralegal or staffer gets that, she or he will never know how a client--or a law firm partner--thinks.

Rule 8 is really simple. Watch and minimize costs and show the client that you are interested in doing that. Go beyond just avoiding wasteful spending, and think of the client's business as yours. Factor cost (including fees!) into everything you think, say and do. Let the client know that you know that holding down costs is good for both the client and your law firm. You want repeat clients, and a maximum of steady income streams, so let clients know you really care about saving it money because of just that: you want to keep costs down so the client will stay with the firm in the long-term.

Most clients not only get this but appreciate it greatly in time. Three years ago, at the beginning of a fairly intense but short-term lobbying project in DC for a new client (a high-tech company with a fabulous product), I told the client's CEO--by the way, she was brilliant, talented and rich but surprisingly unsophisticated on the use of lawyers--that she had three options on legal paths she could take on the project, and that I wanted her to use the least expensive one on legal fees. She actually said: "Dan, you know we really like you guys. But your goal has got to be to make as many thousands of dollars you can a month from this project. Why a cheap avenue for me that involves fewer lawyer hours? Why should I take this seriously?" My answer: "Because whether you sell this company or not, we want to represent it or whatever company you next develop on a long term basis, and we would rather work for you for years and years than just a few months."

That made sense to her. Everyone in our shop needs (1) to think in terms of holding down client costs--attorney fees and out-of-pocket expenses--at every step and every moment of a client project, (2) to know why, and (3) to be prepared to explain that to the client.

Posted by JD Hull at April 27, 2007 10:29 AM


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