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When it comes to going over a client's budget, there really are two sides to the coin.
On one side, you have a client who is not happy with the bill. On the other side, you have a lawyer with a potential client problem. Either way, we're talking about money.
The trick to saving the client relationship -- and not losing money -- is to add value. It means you have to invest in the relationship.
Treat Clients Like Gold
In the law business, referrals are the business. And clients are the best referral sources.
"Successful rainmakers know this and treat their current and former clients like the crown jewels of their practices," according to FindLaw's Practice Management. "They recognize that existing clients are the most important people in their marketing mix."
This includes staying in touch and asking for feedback. Michelle Abidoye, a partner with FordHarrison, said she gives client seminars and training on a reduced fee, flat rate or complimentary basis.
"Adding value means investing in the client relationship," she says. "I do that by understanding my clients' industry so they do not have to pay me to get up to speed on their issues."
Ideally, lawyers should advise clients in advance, in person and in writing about potential fees and costs of any case. But if you have to give a client the bad news about going over budget, first ask yourself the tough questions:
Jeremy Richter, writing for Attorney at Work, suggests using a spreadsheet for clients to track a proposed budget. That way, he says, you can "compare it to the actual costs, including billing fees and expenses."
Sometimes, even the best-laid plans do not work out as proposed. That's when you have to invest a little more; it may require a discount now for a return later.
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