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Billing Conversations with Clients During the COVID-19 Crisis

“Can you give us another 90 days to pay that bill?”

“What discounts can you give us?”

“Our revenue is significantly down. How can you help us through this time?”

These are the types of questions facing every outside counsel during this new COVID-19 reality. While the level of loss varies depending on the industry, clients are almost all struggling with revenue decline and looking to outside counsel for help. Like everything with client relationships, “one size fits one” when it comes to how attorneys should be responding. But here are some suggestions and guidelines for how to successfully approach the money conversation:

  • Make it a two-way conversation. Consider how the firm can both help its clients and itself. Offer the financial assistance, but also use the conversation as a jumping-off point for new areas of work the firm could handle or other growth opportunities. The Legal Value Network’s Council of Luminaries wrote in April: “It is important to remember the importance of basic negotiation: Try to get something in return.”
  • Be creative. Instead of just agreeing to the asked-for discounts or delays, find out whether transitioning to alternative fees, success fees or some other fee structure will help solve the client’s problems and provide the firm with a more profitable structure.
  • Include others in the talks. When clients ask for discounts or payment delays, don’t navigate the situation alone. If your firm has pricing professionals, include them. Also, consider practice group leaders, managing partners or other firm leaders to either join the conversations or provide feedback and guidance based on what they are seeing in other client relationships. On the client side, try to include those in-house counsel with decision-making authority and/or a wide knowledge of the client’s broader legal needs.
  • Invest in internal training. These conversations are going to be uncomfortable for a lot of attorneys, but the firm can help by providing training. Add some extra time to existing group meetings or firmwide calls to provide tips and resources to your attorneys.
  • Remember the timeline. Don’t neglect to discuss either set timeframes or other guardrails during these conversations. An automatic trigger of when the discounts sunset or at least when the parties will reassess the agreement prevents awkwardness down the road and helps give everyone a better understanding of the agreement.
  • Look at this as an opportunity to continue building trusted relationships. Always remember that this is an opportunity to show your clients you genuinely care about them, both personally and professionally, and want to help them through this very difficult time. Clients will remember, and that support will create an unshakably loyal client relationship.
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