Ever since I stopped billing by the hour in 2006, lawyers are constantly asking me, “How do you set your prices?” It’s a topic I’ve lectured on and written about frequently, and my new consulting firm, Prefix, LLC, focuses on teaching lawyers how to do it for themselves. But today, I want to turn the question around:
How do you set your billing rates?
It’s an important question, and one you should know the answer to.
I know what the books on starting your own firm say (I’ve read them). Most of them come up with a formula along these lines: Decide how much profit you want to make in a year, add your estimated annual overhead, then divide the sum by the number of hours you think you can bill in a year. That’s your hourly rate.
That’s not how anyone sets their billing rates, regardless of what the books say. Instead, their rates are based on three factors.…
When 1,500 lawyers gathered at this week’s ABA TechShow in Chicago, an interesting thing happened:
The business card died.
When these lawyers weren’t listening to the dozens of cutting-edge seminars or browsing the exhibitors’ booths, they were making new friends and new professional connections. But instead of exchanging business cards, many of the attendees were trading Twitter handles — their online identities that begin with the @ symbol. (I’m @jayshep.) Massachusetts lawyer Gabriel Cheong (@gabrielcheong) told me that by the end of the conference, he had collected exactly zero business cards. (I immediately gave him one of mine. #irony) Instead of accumulating two-by-three-and-a-half-inch scraps of cardstock, he typed their Twitter names directly into his iPhone. (And I doubt anyone actually said, “Uh, I’m not on the Twitter.”) Molly McDonough (@Molly_McDonough), online editor at the ABA Journal, tweeted at the end of the conference: “For first time, I didn’t collect any biz cards at #abatechshow. Just made note of names and followed on Twitter.” Others retweeted (quoted) her tweet with approval.
So does this mean it’s time for small-firm lawyers to learn how to tweet?
I’m reporting to you live from Chicago at the 25th Annual ABA TechShow, where an amazing group of passionate lawyers from around the country have gathered to talk and teach about the future of law practice. While many of the programs deal with technology, the underlying theme seems to be that change is coming to our industry, and we should probably figure this stuff out before it’s too late.
If you want to send a message that you really don’t care what your document looks like, or that you never really gave it any thought, then this is the font for you. It might mean that you don’t really understand computers very well, and never bothered to learn how to change the default font. It probably also means that you never took a moment to consider the judge (or the client or whoever is reading what you wrote) and how she will have to slog through yet another gray document filled with too-small text that looks like every other one she’s read today.
But mostly it just means that you’re apathetic, and that you don’t consider what you write to be work worthy of craftsmanship.
So what is this font that says so much about you, and what should you use instead?
So you’re at a small firm and you want to be successful. Good. Why you wouldn’t want that is beyond me. But if you want to be a successful lawyer, you need to make a name for yourself. If you don’t want to be a successful lawyer, you can leave this post now. We’ll wait. [Waits while the preternaturally mediocre leave ATL for Dlisted or whatever.] OK? The rest of you stick with me.
Look. You didn’t end up at a big firm, because you didn’t go to a top law school or because your first-year grades weren’t as stellar as they could have been. So you’re not going to be making a huge salary in exchange for billing 2,500 hours a year. Deal with it. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a very successful career as a lawyer. It just means that you need to take a different approach.
The most important thing you can do to make a name for yourself as a lawyer is to find a way to stand out from the crowd. Here are six tips on how to do it.…
No, not in the way you think. I’m not talking about E-tickets and giant bow-tied mice and screaming, overtired kids being dragged around by the half-crazed parents determined to get their money’s worth. (“Have fun, dammit! Have fun!”) I mean in the way that the company, Walt Disney, creates a consistently positive and memorable experience year round for people from all over the world.
Whatever your impressions or memories of Disney World, most people agree that the company’s ability to make people happy is unrivaled. Executives and managers from companies in every industry pay thousands of dollars to study how the company does it at the Disney Institute. And the Institute even published a book on how to Disneyify your company called Be Our Guest. You can get the book at Amazon for about ten bucks; I recommend it.
So what can your law firm do to create the kind of world-class service that Mickey would be proud of? Let’s discuss….
As with love affairs, all lawyer-client relationships must eventually end. If you’re lucky, they won’t end until retirement or death (not the untimely kind; that would be unlucky). More often though, they will end with one of you — usually the client — finding someone new or simply no longer needing the other. The goal, then, is to try to stave off this end for as long as possible. But it will come eventually. And while no one likes to lose a client, it’s not the end of the world.
But there’s one situation where losing a client is a much more serious problem:
When it’s an uberclient.
Let me explain. When I got the offer at my first law firm, I met with one of the partners one last time before accepting. I felt like I was supposed to ask him important questions about the four-lawyer firm, to help me decide whether to accept. The first question I asked was whether the firm had any debt. Someone told me that this was a good question to ask. He said they didn’t, and that seemed like a good answer. Then I had a brain flash, and asked a much better question:
“Is there any one thing that could put the firm out of business?”
Seriously. Why? I don’t mean in a “because I couldn’t get a BigLaw job” way. I mean, “Why are you practicing law in a small firm?” And if you’re looking for work in a small firm, why? In fact, I really want to know why you’re a lawyer in the first place.
More importantly, your clients want to know. They might not realize it, and they probably will never ask you, but deep down, they want to know why. Why do they want to know? Because why you do what you do is what attracts clients; it’s what makes them want to work with you.
I can already hear you scoffing: “My clients work with me because I’m a good lawyer, or because they like me, or because they have a history with my firm, or because I’m so freakin’ good-looking.” Maybe so. Maybe that’s why they started working with you. But that’s not why they’ll stay with you. They’ll stay with you because of why you do what you do. So you need to figure out your why.
But how do you find your why? This guy can help you….
As the owner of a small law firm, I’m always surprised at how many blind résumés I receive in the mail. First of all, who even uses mail anymore? Does anyone seriously think that I’m going take them more seriously because they used cream-colored, 100% cloth, 24-pound bond paper? I’m not.
But forget the résumés for a minute; for me, it’s the cover letter that tells me whether I want to interview this person. Over the years, I’ve received thousands of cover letters from lawyers and law students. I’ve gotten to the point where I really don’t need to read the résumé before I’ve made my decision.
So with that in mind, here are 11 tips for writing cover letters to potential employers.
1. Spell my frikkin’ name right. You’d be astounded at how many times candidates blow this one.…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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