By Ally Kennedy, Founder of Amiga
This week a new president takes office. Many of us who fight for justice and equality are greatly concerned about what will happen under this new administration. As an immigration attorney I have seen drastic, harmful changes within the Enforcement and Removal Operations branch of Immigration and Customs Enforcement since the day that it was announced that Trump would be our next president. It is of great and grave concern for all of lawyers who give voice to the voiceless and who fight for the marginalized.
With all of this major change, it is easy for those of us who run our own law firms to get lost in our feelings of disappointment and despair as we engage in the fight for justice in a system that is less than just, and then begin to cut our fees because of how we see those injustices play out. I know that even pre-Trump Presidency, I often found myself cutting fees or failing to charge clients when I felt like an injustice was done against my clients. I also know that this is a way to sink your law firm and not earn enough money to earn a decent living.
As I said in my article “How to Set the Right Flat Fee,” we cannot cure an injustice by cutting our fee. If we cut our fees in the face of injustice, it can lead to burnout, resentment, and even cause to us to give less than 100% to our work. Though many of us fear for our clients and our justice system during this difficult time, we must continue to be the CEOs of our law firms in addition to doing the great legal work that we do.
Remember, doing excellent work and earning an excellent living are not mutually exclusive. You deserve to be paid well just as your clients deserve to get your best work.
Here are a few reminders and tips to help you earn a great living while still remaining committed to the fight for justice:
1. Charge Your Clients Appropriately
If you bill by the hour, make sure that you track your time and bill for it. If you work on flat fees, set the right fee for the case. It sounds easy enough, but for some reason it is very difficult for most of us solos and small firms. Accept this as a reminder to charge what the case is worth and value your time by billing for it.
2. Develop a Price List (And Stick To It)
I am a strong believer in a price list. This is not a publicly shared document, rather it is something that is internal that you determine ahead of time. Without a price list, you are essentially going into a consult blind. This allows you to quote a fee that is based on the feeling and emotion of the meeting instead of based on the concrete facts of the time and resources that it takes to create a case.
Some people suggest putting a picture of your family to help hold you to your pricing. Others suggest laminating the price list and keeping it on your desk for your own personal reference. One Amiga shared that she loves going on cruises and so she keeps a picture of her on her favorite cruise as a reminder to value her work so that she can have the life that she loves while giving clients the lives that they deserve through her great work. I oftentimes have to have my business manager sit in with me to hold me to quoting the right fee. I cave too easily a grand majority of the time and I need that accountability. Find what works for you and do it.
3. Send Bills
Bill your clients monthly or bimonthly. This is a non-negotiable. This is a big mistake that I made in my firm for a very long time and it caused me to severely under earn. If you do not like to handle the billing or know that you won’t send bills, hire someone who will do it.
This is one of the most important steps that you can take to ensure that you get to keep doing the work that you love. If you can’t afford to stay in business, you don’t get to do the great work that you do. Be the CEO of Your Law Firm and run your finances like the professional that you are.
4. Be Selective About Your Pro Bono and Low Bono Work
It is important to have a plan in place about how you will screen for and accept pro bono and low bono cases. Determine how many cases and of what case type you would like to take on pro bono and/or low bono. Create a system of accountability to ensure that you are not taking on too many pro bono and low bono cases. For more tips on how to make pro bono work for you, check out my article “How to Do Pro Bono Work Without Losing Your Sanity.”
5. Do Not Confuse Commitment with Low Price
There seems to be an underlying attitude in certain practice areas that if an attorney is truly committed to a cause, she would do the work for free or for a lower fee. This is absolutely not true. An attorney can be extremely dedicated to the pursuit of justice and fairness while at the same time charging a fee, and a hefty fee at that. (Don’t forget that the lawyers in “Making of a Murderer” were not pro bono lawyers, yet they are the modern day versions of Atticus Finch.) Do not set your prices based on other people’s opinions or ideas. Value the work that you do and charge accordingly.
Share with us how you fight for justice and also earn a great living!
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.