Why Striving for “Predictable” Legal Fees May be a Cop-Out
A common mantra we hear from GCs and other clients concerning their overall legal spend is their desire for more predictable legal fees. They complain, especially in a litigation context, that their biggest problem is cost uncertainty. Presumably, this means that a law firm will successfully appease it’s client by providing predictable legal bills – no matter how large – so long as their are no untoward surprises. Unfortunately, it is exactly this type of mindset that has (irresponsibly, IMHO) fed the bloated and ever-greedy monster that BigLaw has become.
Accepting cost certainty, rather than cost fairness, is the ultimate cop-out by clients, and while it may be the “safe play,” it is certainly not the best course of action for your bottom line.
It’s like taking your Porsche to the dealership for an oil change. You’ll leave with new oil, your brake rotors turned, and a set of new run-flats for somewhere approaching the price of a five-star Caribbean vacation. Or, you could have taken it down to Gunther, a small specialist, who would change the oil, put on new rear pads only, and advised you that your run-flats were really pricey and you still had a few thousand miles of good use left on them. Did I mention that Gunther’s bill would be in the low hundreds instead of the high thousands.
The dealership scenario is very similar to the BigLaw model as practiced the last 25 years or so. You know what you are getting, the costs will be predictable and certain – just mind-bogglingly high – but, hey, it’s just the way it’s always been, right? Gunther is riskier, because for every good small mechanic, there are a couple of not so good ones, but when you find the right one, you get better service for a much smaller price.
So, who should a client use? A traditional, “safe,” BigLaw firm? Or a small, specialized, but potentially riskier, value-pricing boutique? To me the answer is obvious, but perhaps I’m just an outlier who believes that finding better service at a far better price is worth the extra effort needed to locate the right legal service providers.
People, this stuff may not be easy, but it certainly isn’t rocket science. Gunther is out there. Trust me.