Vol. 81, No. 8, August
What Keeps You Awake at Night?
How Can I Avoid Negotiating the Bill After the Work Is Done?
A client of many years has asked for
a percentage discounted from his bill. We frequently perform work for
this client, but he does not use our firm exclusively. How can
I avoid a round of negotiations over the bill after the work is done,
while at the same time maintain a good relationship with our client?
Address Potential Billing Concerns During Your Initial
You can avoid a common problem on the back end (for example, attempts
to renegotiate bills)
by identifying that problem at the front end, that is by discussing it
at all initial
To address your concern, you could say something like this at
"Please know the rate we agreed to is final. I cannot
increase that rate later because
I feel my work has been worth more, or for any other reason. On your
part, you can't decrease
the rate later. On rare occasion, a client of mine assumes rates or
bills can be renegotiated
later. Then, when the client comes to me and tries to
renegotiate, he is disappointed to learn
I won't. Please know I will not ask you to renegotiate, and I won't
renegotiate if asked. We
both need clarity about what will be paid, and no surprise requests to
pay something different.
Do you agree?"
I have similar conversations in my own consultations and have
nearly eliminated the
specific problems I discuss. Clients remember the types of negative
conduct that "some clients" do,
and they don't want to become that client.
Unless, that is, they have good reason to.
We must always be open to the possibility that a
discount-seeking client may have
legitimate concerns. That is, where fees exceed value. It is best that
an attorney identifies these
occasions first, before the client does. If you spot such an occasion _
for example, you get
a court decision rendering moot a brief (and its billed hours) _ that is
a great opportunity
to inform the client you recognize the fee/value mismatch,
and that you are discounting the bill.
Michael F. Brown, Peterson, Berk & Cross S.C., Appleton
Determine If You Want to Keep the Client
Do you want to keep a relationship with this client? As you become
more successful in
your practice, you don't need clients who demand your time but then
won't pay for it. Our
practice with unreasonable clients is to tell them, "Pay what you
want to pay and what you think
our services were worth. And never contact this office again for future
Rule No. 1: Never sue for fees. Rule No. 2: Don't do work for
demanding clients. Even if this client never pays, we can move on
without begging for fees from
unsatisfied and unreasonable clients.
Patricia D. Jursik, Jursik & Jursik, Cudahy
Ask the Client to
Articulate a Problem Requiring a Discount
Of course the first tactic is to avoid the situation entirely;
promptly send out monthly
statements with detailed descriptions of the work done. If you do this
and are responsive to
the client on an ongoing basis (promptly return calls, and so on) and
there has not been one
peep out of the client as to the bill before the request to renegotiate
it, I would call the
client and ask whether there was a particular service that did not meet
expectations. This forces the client to point to your itemized statement
and articulate a problem. The
next question I would ask (in the same phone call) is why the client did
not point out this
problem at the time of the initial billing.
If the client has anything reasonable to say in response to
these questions, I would
consider the discount. If the client wants to pay less simply because he
or she is a volume buyer,
I would politely say that I believe the bill to be fair and reasonable,
and that I am happy
to waive (or did waive) a retainer fee in light of the fact that he or
she is a regular
client, but the bill stands as a reasonable measure of the value of the
I would be willing to take the chance that the client will dump
me for other providers
or conclude that I am a person who has some integrity when measuring my
Janice K. Wexler, Scheffer & Wexler S.C., Madison
Consider Why the Client Is Asking for a Discount
One cannot blame a person for trying to save money. Remember,
everything is negotiable!
Why is the client requesting a discount? Ask her if there were
problems with your
legal services. Remind her that your number-one priority is providing
representation, and that you are concerned if that isn't happening.
If the client has been satisfied with the quality of work, ask
her if she is
experiencing any financial problems necessitating the request. If so,
work out a payment plan instead of
Review the bill with your staff, and find out if there is
anything amiss with the bill.
Were you accurate in timekeeping? Was the case more complex than
anticipated? Explain these
things to your client.
Consider how much business this client brings to your practice
and whether this client
generates new business.
If you have experienced increases in operating expenses, explain
this to your client,
and tell the client that over the years it is becoming more difficult
for you to afford
Lastly, consider requiring larger retainer fees or deposits at
the beginning of the
representation and periodic billing during the representation.
Jennifer Lee Edmondson, Attorney at Law, Appleton