Some reasons why every lawyer should be encouraged to do fee estimates

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Fascinating blog post over on the pmhut.com website recently (30 April 2015) by Terry Bunio, Principal Consultant at Protegra, on “Why I Like Estimates” that should be add to the “must read” list of every lawyer and law firm business developer who hasn’t already read it and adopted its principles.

Some of the things that Terry sets out that really resonated with me in this post included:

  • Estimates make me think through a solution

“When I estimate I am forced to examine project details and technology and think through the deliverables at a detail level and how we would build them. This helps to identify issues early and give the team and client lead time to decide on a resolution. When you discover issues late in the game, your options are limited and client anger usually follows.”

Precisely the same reason why lawyers should be doing cost estimates before agreeing to undertake a matter. It makes you think through what the issue(s) is/are, how you are going to deliver the desired result to the client and what sort of resourcing you’ll need. You should also be able to determine at this time what you cannot deliver to the client.

  • Estimates create a shared understanding

“…the discussions that occur while estimating are invaluable. These discussions create a shared understanding throughout the entire team.”

Terry is absolutely spot on here. It should also allow you to assign what work the firm will do, and what work will be outsourced (to an LPO) or insourced (to the in-house team). It sets out a task management process from the offset and reduces the risk of scope creep or out of service work being done. QED, if you follow this process at the end of the day you are much less likely to have an upset client.

  • Estimates allow Clients to allocate post Minimum Viable Product budget to other initiatives

“Clients are not going to reserve large budgets just in case an Information Technology project needs it. Clients have a very limited budget and there are always more initiatives than budget. Allowing clients just to stop projects at any point does not recognize the lost opportunity cost by not starting additional initiatives that could have placed them ahead of their competitors.

Again Terry is right. While lawyers rarely want to get their hands dirty talking money upfront on a matter, it should be kept in mind that money is a limited resource to your client (as it is to your firm) and every dollar your client spends with you is an opportunity cost to the client’s business – vis-a-vis that dollar being spent elsewhere. It should therefore be incumbent upon you not only to ensure that your client understands how much they will likely be required to pay for the matter but also for you to reduce any likelihood of your firm either having to write down time or simply not be paid for out of scope work done by your team.

In short, as Terry writes: “Estimates matter” and going through a robust matter cost estimate process with your client before any instruction to act on a matter should be recommended and adopted as best practice by all lawyers.

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