On February 4, I returned to Total Expert Radio for a very informative show on alternative billing structures for law firms that focused on subscription-based services. This show featured Aaron Street and Sam Glover, who you probably know as the founders of Lawyerist.com, one of the nation’s leading legal practice management blogs. When Aaron and Sam are not educating attorneys nationwide on practice management, technology and other legal industry trends they are serving their clients via StartUpLawyer.MN, a law firm that uses a unique subscription-based billing system to serve tech startups.
Lawyers today have a lot of options when it comes to billing—hourly rates, flat fees, contingencies, prepaid services and subscriptions, to name a few. While traditional firms usually stick to hourly fees or contingencies, many lawyers have begun experimenting with flat fees, and others are starting to introduce subscription-based fees to their clients. During the show, I asked Aaron and Sam about subscriptions, and this is what I learned:
- Subscriptions work well for small, new businesses and clients that need to create a long-term relationship with an attorney who can provide standard advice throughout the life of that relationship.
- Subscriptions allow clients to plan ahead and budget for legal expenses since they know upfront how much they will be billed upfront. Unlike with invoices for hourly fees, there are no surprises when clients receive their monthly invoice.
- Since subscription fees are the same each month, it is easy for attorneys to set up a recurring credit card charge similar to the way consumers pay for other ongoing services. This makes bill collections much easier for attorneys. Subscriptions also give attorneys exact numbers for recurring revenue each month, which makes it easier for the law firm to budget and plan ahead for office expenses and growth.
- Subscription-based legal services do not cover everything the attorney will do for their clients so Aaron and Sam offer various subscription packages plus flat rates for services not covered by a package.
- To create a subscription package, it is important to enumerate what your law firm will do on a recurring basis. For Aaron and Sam, these packages include an introductory business audit, regular check-ins, a certain number of included document preparations, and discounts for flat fee services. A subscription is not just an “availability retainer.” You have to offer something to the client on a regular basis that provides value for the money they pay each month.
- Even though subscriptions require you to regularly provide something of value to clients, they do not force you to work additional hours. Instead of waiting for clients to call your law firm with emergencies, your regular check-ins allow you to keep emergencies to a minimum and schedule blocks of time in which you communicate with your clients.
- Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all model for subscriptions. It is important for you to understand your clients and choose the billing model that best suits your clients’ needs and the needs of your firm. Be willing to experiment and build in opportunities for changes in the fee model as your relationships grow with clients.
If you would like to hear more about subscription-based billing, check out the show archives here. Join us March 4 at 11 a.m. Central for our next Total Expert Radio show: Going Green this Spring. We will discuss ways to make your office more eco-friendly and how to limit the amount of paper you keep in your office.