As some of you know, my family has undertaken a fairly extensive home construction project that involves digging out a basement and adding 1,400 square feet of livable space. The selection process for choosing our architect, builder and finishing crew reminded me of how in-house counsel talk about their selection of outside counsel. We asked our friends and neighbors who they would recommend, we did our own research and we sought advice from people who had gone through similar projects.
The project is massive and requires someone with true expertise in 100-year-old homes. We ultimately selected a contractor who had handled nine of the last 14 dig-outs in our area largely because of his experience and his clearly laid-out plan. But we also picked him for his ability to offer a timeline, budget and list of things that would take us off our targets (of both time and money).
In every client interview today, we hear about budgets, predictability, communication around changes and adding value beyond the bill. It doesn’t matter the industry, the size of the company or the in-house team, the type of work or type of law firm—that ability to plan and communicate is hugely important to clients. When it comes to billing and budgets, they want transparency, predictability, credibility with their business people and communication around changes or surprises, early and with agreed rational.
I can’t imagine hiring a contractor who had handled similar projects for nine other properties but who was unable to offer a budget or a timeline. But that is what lawyers are asking their clients and prospects to do all of the time! Lawyers are quick to offer how often they have done similar work or how well they know the industry, issue, people, judges or government entity, but far too many are completely incapable or unwilling to provide budgets that align with the expertise they are selling.
Clients deserve more and are far more sophisticated in this area than ever before. They are pushing back and demanding better (rightly so). I understand every practice group and type of work has its own complexities, nuances, potential challenges and unknowns, but so does digging out the framework and foundation of a 100-year-old home. Your clients have VERY sophisticated businesses, systems, practices and products, but it does not stop them from figuring out pricing, billing and budgeting with their own clients. Follow their lead or risk losing business.