By Ally Kennedy, Founder of Amiga
For the first 6 to 7 years of my career, I was earning way, way below. It first started at the previous firms where I worked and carried through my first two years in solo practice. I made a ton of mistakes, and many of which revolved around not valuing myself and my work.
Most importantly, is to understand that doing great work in exchange for great money is a value-exchange. Charging a price that reflects the value of your work isn’t “stealing” or “being all about the money.” It is demonstrating the value of the incredible work that you do.
Both you and your client benefit from an appropriate exchange of value: you both gain financial security, work security, and can provide a high quality life for your families.
Through my own experiences and my experiences working with attorneys one-on- one in coaching, I have narrowed down the three main categories in which immigration attorneys earn below. These three categories overlap, but they can be viewed as separate and distinct as well.
Three Categories of “Earning Below”
1. The Perception of the Client’s Situation
2. Devaluation of Our Work
3. Being an Associate instead of a CEO
1. Perception of Client’s Situation
When we think that we know the client’s personal or financial situation, we often project onto them perceptions that cause us to charge below what a case is worth. For example, we do not charge an appropriate amount because we believe that the fees would be too expensive for the client. We do not know if this is true, but we think it could be so we feel bad for the client. We think things like, “If I charge this, he won’t be able to pay his rent.”
We also take on the burden of the injustice of the situation and try to “fix” it by cutting our fees.
Sadly we cannot fix the unfairness of the immigration system or unjust governmental acts by charging the client less. We can fix any injustices by doing excellent work for our client, and preferably at a price that reflects the value exchange (you providing value to the client and the client paying you an appropriate value for that service).
2. Devaluation of Our Work
Many of us devalue the great work that we do by undercharging, undercutting prices (even on prices that are already too low), and negotiating against ourselves to lower prices, oftentimes without a client even asking.
We also devalue our work when we do not charge for extra work, regardless of the reason- whether it is the government’s fault or the client’s fault. The extra work that you do has tremendous value (such as responding to a Request for Evidence), and a price reflecting that value needs to be charged otherwise we are devaluing the services we provide.
For women in particular, we suffer from erroneous thinking in that “the work should be reward enough.” We think that if we truly cared about the issues, then we wouldn’t charge for the work. The happiness and joy that we feel from getting great results should be enough. This is erroneous thinking. We can make a healthy living while doing work that we love. It is not a mutually exclusive proposition.
3. Being an Associate Instead of a CEO
If you own a law firm and you “hate the business stuff” (a quote I hear often and I used to feel the same way), then you are likely acting like an associate in your law firm instead of the CEO. If you want to “just do the work” and nothing else, it will be hard to do the work that you love because you have to make a living doing it.
The biggest reason why firms earn below is because they fail to bill. The next reason is because we often waive fees for costs or other “small” case related expenses. Every dollar adds up. And I have learned the hard way: if you send a bill, you get paid. If you don’t send a bill, you don’t get paid.
Also, any disorganization in the firm, whether it is hard files, e-files, or financial disorganization, will affect your bottom line. Being in the dark about your firm’s finances will throw the entire firm into financial chaos and will affect every member of the firm. Regardless of how scary it is, turn on the light. See what’s there. It will make all the difference.
Getting files organized is important whether a law firm owner or an associate because it will help things run more smoothly. Thirty minutes looking for a paper that is mislabeled, not filed, or not saved uniformly is time that is not well spent.
There is so much to say on this topic and this is just the tip of the iceberg! For more information, check out my presentation in Amiga’s First Annual Women, Power, and Money conference.
What are ways in which you have risen above earning below?
About your Ally in Life, Business and Law:
Alexandra "Ally" Kennedy is a national award-winning attorney and the founder of AMIGA Lawyers and Alexandra Kennedy Immigration Law.. After becoming a mother, and in a matter of 3 months, Ally transformed her practice from earning in pesos to earning 6-figures and she is passionate about teaching attorneys how they can do the same. Ally empowers lawyers to be the CEOs of their law firms with her weekly blog, webinars, and conferences where she teaches step-by-step how to do the work they love while running a profitable legal business. Ally lives outside of Seattle with her partner and their 5 children.