Services & Pricing

What Your Clients Aren’t Telling You

While recently speaking to a group of solo and small firm lawyers, I had an interesting exchange with an audience member. She was an experienced practitioner working with mostly business clients. When she commented about how she had long-term clients who often came back with new work, I suggested using a subscription model instead of the billable hour to provide more predictability and value to her clients. She responded that while she’d thought about it, her clients would never go for it because they like the billable hour.

First off, I find it very hard to believe, that clients – especially business clients who have a budget – like the billable hour and the uncertaintly of the final cost so much so that they would refuse an alternative. Second, I got the impression she made this assumption based on her beliefs and not on actual feedback from clients.

Listen, I get it. Moving away from the billable hour is uncomfortable, especially when it’s what we’ve known for so long and had relative success with. But we are a service profession. Our job is to provide a service to the client. What we might be comfortable with may not be the client’s best option.

In response to her assumption, I challenged my fellow practitioner to do something simple: ask. Ask her clients what they thought about moving to a structured, predictable subscription model. Ask if that would work better for their businesses so they would continue to use hers. Ask and get some real feedback before making such a sweeping assumption.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe some of her clients like the unpredictable billable hour. Maybe they find it thrilling not knowing what the next bill will hold. For those clients, she can keep on trucking. I would bet, however, that if she created a subscription model with a few different options, she would find most clients would love it. After all, we’re businesses too, right? Would you want to get a bill each month that could range from a few hundred dollars to a few (or several) thousand? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a line item in my budget for “whatever the lawyer’s bill is”.

I write this post with the utmost respect and appreciation for that lawyer and her willingness to share about her practice. She was one of the few who bravely spoke up, and that says a lot. And because of her courage in that tiny moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if she did ask her clients a few questions. Although it’s not easy, what she’ll likely find is that creating the opportunity to gather real-time client feedback may uncover some surprises.

If a subscription model could work for your firm, will you take the challenge and ask clients what they think? Or, if you’ve already made the switch, what’s been your experience?