How Much Does The Average 18 Year Old Make Hourly 4 Reasons Prestige Doesn’t Justify Your Rates: Your Law Firm Proposal Needs Better Differentiators

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4 Reasons Prestige Doesn’t Justify Your Rates: Your Law Firm Proposal Needs Better Differentiators

Here you are, in your office, the night before your proposal is due, the cursor flashing on the screen. And you’re looking at questions 1 and 2 of the request for proposal.

Q1. “What are your hourly rates?”

P2. “How do you justify your hourly rates?”

When I consult with legal clients about their proposals, differentiating is always the hardest part for them. Experience? Great results? Happy customers? Lawyer biography? Yes, they do, but so do all the other big companies they compete with. So how do you stand out? How do you get the customer to choose you? Most importantly, how do you justify these fees?

Without a structured process, most customers simply give up. You cite the same things everyone else is quoting, hope for the best, and then dabble in some of that magic Biglaw cure: prestige.

oh yes What is the prestige these days in the spot market? Can you buy a full bucket?

Does it work this way? Not entirely. But every RFP sent out gets a dozen pitches about the company’s history and prestige.

To the proposal writer, this makes perfect sense. After all, who is the customer to say what is and isn’t prestigious? It’s a matter of opinion.

Think about it though. Is your unverifiable and unverifiable opinion a solid basis on which to justify hourly rates in a proposal to the very person you want to pay them to?

And is it something you want to claim? To me, there are six good reasons why you should banish this word from your legal proposals.

Can’t we give it some prestige?

A proposal is a sales document. So what you say in it affects the reader’s opinion of your company.

And a proposal can raise the dignity of an otherwise excellent company in the eyes of the customer. Ultimately, however, for a proposal to be true, it must reflect the true character of your law firm. Now, a law firm can improve its reputation if it is willing to pay the price to do so. But trying to claim the mantle without paying the price will quickly be discovered. Also, the customer won’t appreciate me passing average for top quality. It’s a farce.

There are companies that have been recognized as prestigious through decades of unsurpassed results, the highest standards and excellent customer service. And there are companies that have entered the club in much less time, spending what was necessary on tables at dinners and charity parties and Monets and other forms of advertising that the legal world considers acceptable. One hundred years on the one hand and ten or twenty on the other.

Well, heck, if these guys can be considered prestigious, why can’t we? We can use the same thick paper on our Christmas cards and serve the same fine wine at clients’ parties.

The problem, however, is that prestige is a specific choice. And if you haven’t made that choice all along, you can’t justify your rates by quoting them now. Nobody will believe you. Because?

You are not really prestigious

Expensive, yes. Prestigious, no.

The types of clients who use RFPs are not stupid. They are Fortune 500 companies. They pay their executives very well. They know what prestige is.

Some lawyers argue that they can claim to be prestigious by virtue of their fees. That backs it all up, of course. But, even more critically, these guys need to realize that they really aren’t willing to pay the price for prestige.

Prestige is not measured by the number of partners you have who claim to bill $1,000 an hour. It’s in a culture of holding yourself to the highest standards, even when no one is looking. It is a willingness to forgo benefits now for goodwill later. It’s ensuring that even your newest associates and paralegals understand that there is no routine. No regular email. No routine phone calls. There is no routine presentation.

The price of prestige is the way the receptionist answers the phone, the way even the UPS guy is greeted in the lobby. It’s the way a young litigant interacts with opposing counsel in court.

In other words, the price of prestige is doing whatever it takes to earn prestige. Hourly rates are not part of this equation.

Your customers don’t want prestige

Still, some attorneys want to raise the flagpole and waive it for clients to justify their fees. Is this a good option?

If you choose to present yourself in your pitches as prestigious, does that resonate with the clients you’re trying to win over? Does it harmonize with your business, values, goals, hobbies?

It’s not likely. When I ask the training participants to name some prestigious companies, the same one always comes up. Try it yourself. Who do you think of?

The company most people mention is Rolls Royce.

Most people, even rich people, don’t own a Rolls Royce. Why not? Wouldn’t you like one? For sure. But they have many, many things they want to achieve before they buy a Rolls Royce. They preferred that their children go to the best possible schools. They preferred to have a beach house as a place where the family can go and have fun together. They would rather spend on tickets to take their friend to the Super Bowl. But a Rolls Royce? They are happy with their Lexus or BMW or other luxury car. The extra that a Rolls Royce offers, basically prestige, is not that valuable to most people.

And this with his own money. If they rarely get a Rolls Royce for themselves, you can be sure they are not buying a Rolls Royce for their business. Does Home Depot use a Rolls Royce as a company car? Does Staples do?

So why would you want to sell yourself as the Rolls Royce of law firms when responding to an RFP? However, a Google search for “prestigious law firm” turns up over two million hits. Clearly, companies are doing it.

That doesn’t mean you can’t justify your Biglaw fees. But if your customers are pickup truck people, you won’t surprise them with a Rolls Royce. Instead, you’ll just make them think: 1) you’re very, very different from them, and 2) you waste a lot of money on stupid things. A customer wants to pay for stupid things through your high fees? No way. It will pay for quality, results, experience and many other things, but prestige is not one of them.

Prestige isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I remember appearing before a judge in a pro bono matter I handled as a junior associate when I was at Simpson Thacher, generally considered one of the most prestigious firms in the world.

He had been in front of her many times before. But this time, the things he said made it clear that he had no idea we were representing our client pro bono. Now, our client was a sweet little young lady who had been forced out of her home by unscrupulous predatory lenders. And here she was represented by Simpson Thacher, a huge international law firm, leading advisor for investment banks and brokerages and insurers. It was all so obvious. (Not to say it was written on the front of all our briefs, but judges reading documents is another matter entirely).

At that point, it was incredibly clear that he had never heard of us before. For me, this was an eye opener. Green as I was, I assumed the judges came from elite schools and students from elite schools knew elite companies.

No. The name firm meant squat to her. If it meant squatting, was it of any value to customers? Maybe at the appellate court level. Perhaps in federal rather than state courts. But not as much as most Biglaw lawyers would like. And that’s for a firm that has survived at the top of New York’s legal community for a hundred years. Who are these other two million Google hits talking about?

Find other ways to justify the price

There is a great gulf between a Ford Festiva and a Rolls Royce. This is the area where you can honestly and proudly describe the character and value of your company. The critical task of your proposal is to justify your fees by representing your company well, not misrepresenting it. This means your rates need more tangible benefits to break even. Customer-focused benefits include:

· Responsiveness

· Clear communication

· Quality guarantee

· Project management skills

· Operational efficiency

· Speed

· Alternative fee structures

· Experience with your specific sector

· Experience with this specific type of client

· Expertise

· Surplus value

Of course, you need to be able to back it up when the client asks for details. If you can’t say something like, “Yes, all of our lawyers and paralegals undergo three hours of project management training, one hour of management training, two hours of quality assurance training, and two hours of clear communication with the client. ,” then you cannot list them in your proposal as aspects that justify your prices.

The reality is that most companies get by on their expertise alone, and they can do it because everyone else is doing it too. But as large clients are moving toward using RFPs, they’re also much more willing to take chances on smaller companies that want and can deliver value in other ways. And as more law firms realize the value of a persuasive proposal, fewer competitors will be left playing the me-too game with your firm. In other words, the days when Biglaw fees were justified by experience and a prestigious white collar are clearly at an end.

Prestige has its uses, but it takes very few signatures to satisfy the occasional Sultan or Blue Blood. It’s time for you to find a better way to sell your legal services.

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