The In-House Perspective: 4 Law Firm Billing Best Practices

JD Supra Perspectives

What are clients telling you about your firm’s billing practices?

Are you even asking such questions? You should be. In fact, the voice of the client should be woven into everything you do within your organization.

We began asking in-house counsel the most common questions we hear in our capacity as coaches, counseling attorneys on best practices for developing business. Direct from the source, here’s the in-house perspective we heard back on law firm budgeting and billing:

1. Don’t Bill for Training

“Hourly rates have gotten outrageous at the large firms, especially for young associates.  I would love to see larger firms recognize that their first and second year associates don’t know very much and are learning on the job, and adjust their rates downward.” -Scott Mansfield, VP State Underwriting Counsel, Chicago Title Insurance Company

2. Use Fixed Fees for Repetitive Work

“The trend that is most helpful to me is the use of fixed fees for categories of work that are repetitive. We have found this to be helpful in real estate transactions in particular. Once forms are developed and a process is put in place, both the law firm and the company can predict costs fairly well. This allows me to budget more accurately, and it allows the law firm to be paid a fair price.

We can’t just turn outside counsel loose without a firm expectation of costs...

Of course, we always have to make exceptions when the unexpected happens. Accurate budgeting is becoming increasingly important to in-house counsel. We are held accountable for legal spending and can’t just turn outside counsel loose without a firm expectation of costs.” - Taryn Mecia, VP Legal Compliance, Harris Teeter

3. Listen. And Be Strategic With Us… 

“I think the biggest missteps are failing to listen to the client’s budgetary guidance and surprising the client with higher than expected bills. An additional area that firms fail is a failure to discuss case strategy, trade-offs between alternative courses of action, and business priorities with their client.”  - Doug Demoss, Corporate Director and Division Counsel at Northrop Grumman Corporation

4. Set Crystal Clear Expectations Around Costs Up Front

“My first question to counsel upon engagement is not about success rates or previous experience, but rather about how much the work will cost. I always ask about the money up front. It is how the attorney responds to that question that gives me a good idea as to whether or not I will move forward using that attorney.” -Billy Packer, former analyst for CBS Sports

Billy doesn’t ask the question to be confrontational or put the attorney on the spot, but feels that anyone he works with should be a “partner in the process” and not hired help. He wants to know that the attorney has worked on similar matters in the past and will prove to be a valuable resource during the transaction – not just someone checking boxes.

Talk to your clients. Communication is key. The need for improved dialogue around this topic and many, many others is essential if your firm intends to remain competitive. Get in touch if you’d like our help with this.


[Society 54 Co-Founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. A certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches Coach, Jill is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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