Yearend is the perfect time to check in with clients to review the year’s work together, plan for the year ahead, seek feedback and most importantly discuss their top priorities. While talking about money can be uncomfortable, the attorneys who proactively address these challenges will have a competitive advantage.
Avoiding talking about bills and money is only a way to damage a relationship. At the end of the day if you can’t discuss money, I’m going to be unhappy. And when we do talk about money, if it’s an awkward conversation, then I’m probably just going to make a different decision the next time.
I want lawyers to not shy away from any conversation, including fees, and be forthcoming about it. I know that most attorneys know that most clients are thinking about [fees], so I don’t quite understand why they have such a hard time talking about it with us. And by being open, they show empathy towards the economic pressures we face.
Lawyers don’t talk about money because they are afraid to talk about money, but it would be helpful if that was the first topic we have a conversation about.
In thousands of electronic surveys, clients rate their firm’s ability to provide estimates, work to budgets and demonstrate value significantly lower than all other question categories—like quality, helpfulness and responsiveness. And they find most law firms also struggle to comply with their basic billing guidelines, adapt to new billing software and send bills in a timely manner.
In reviewing our 2022 client feedback interviews, client sentiment regarding outside counsel’s ability to help them manage budgets dropped considerably. In 2019, 75% of clients felt their firms met expectations and only 5% reported their expectations were not met. In 2022, client disappointment regarding budget management grew by 26% and the number of clients whose expectations were exceeded dropped 12%.
With a low bar of client expectations and a heightened need for fiduciary responsibility, initiating crucial conversations that address client finances will significantly improve the client experience.
Your clients want to hear from you and want you to be more proactive, so pick up the phone or send a short email to schedule time to talk. Say something like, “I’ve really enjoyed working with you and can’t believe we are nearing the year’s end. I’d love to schedule a short meeting/call with you to make sure we help you accomplish your yearend goals and better understand your needs so we can be effective stewards of your time and resources.”
Do your homework and use the following tips for better conversations about money:
- Ensure you know enough background to answer any basic questions.
- Contact the business development team for help customizing your talking points and rehearsing.
- Involve the firm’s pricing and finance professionals in financial conversations with the legal operations team.
- Approach the conversations as an opportunity to better understand their needs now and in the future.
- Focus on what you can do to make their lives easier.
- Make sure the client knows these conversations are off the clock.
- Be sure to include ways to add value that may never show up on the legal bill into the discussion.