A recent article by anonymous blogger Mother in Law, published in the Law Society Gazette last month, reinforced something I wasn’t taught at the College of Law back in 1993, but it was something which I did learn very quickly as a trainee solicitor. It is a practice which becomes highly relevant when deciding whether or not instructing a Freelance Solicitor like me is the right thing for you. You can read the original article here:
In short, what many solicitors’ clients don’t know is that a very basic formula applies to how solicitors’ practices go about managing their businesses. That formula is “the rule of three”. It applies perhaps more to lawyers at the junior end of the profession but it can apply equally to more senior practitioners such as salaried partners too.
It is easy to be distracted by headline hourly rates charged by solicitors without giving some thought to why they are so high. All we can sell is our time and in selling our time, we provide services, advice and representation as required. Sometimes those services are dressed up with a fixed fee but be under no illusion, that fixed fee has been arrived at from the the experience of knowing, on average, how much time a typical fixed fee case is going to take to carry out.
Traditional solicitors offices carry frighteningly high overheads. Mortgage repayments, rent and business rates are nothing compared to salary costs. Professional Indemnity Insurance is mandatory (and surprisingly expensive), as are professional fees payable to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Printing costs, stationery and IT costs such as case management software licences always seem to be on an upwards trajectory along with professional subscriptions, publications, bank fees and ongoing training obligations. Marketing costs, website maintenance, promotional material costs vie for budget against staff welfare spending, property maintenance, cleaning costs and general expenses such as utility bills. The list goes on and on.
Clients, of course, are not made aware of those costs – and rightly so – but perhaps surprisingly, many lawyers won’t know those costs either, unless they form part of their firm’s management committee. And this is where the rule of three comes in.
Solicitors are generally expected to bill three times their salary. The concept is simple. One third of the fees you bill pays your wages. One third of your billed fees pays your contribution to the firm’s overheads and the final third of your fees represent partners’ profits. As The Gazette article alludes to, whilst it’s not necessarily the case that one rule fits all, if you are an employed solicitor billing less than three times your salary, don’t ask for a pay rise. If you are billing more than four times your salary, you’re at the wrong firm.
Think about that for a moment, in the context of instructing a freelance solicitor versus a traditional high street firm.
One of the strange thing about instructing lawyers, and for some reason, this often applies in the field of motoring law, is that, like the wine list at any good restaurant, nobody orders the least expensive – they don’t want to look cheap and they suspect that it won’t be any good. And whilst that is a theory that may have served you well for many years when choosing a solicitor, or indeed wine, the landscape has now changed by virtue of the introduction of the Freelance Solicitor.
As an added bonus, and as a highly rated convenience factor to many clients, I come to see you if a face to face consultation is needed and I don’t charge you travel costs for doing so. I work from home. I don’t have an office. My overheads are relatively low in comparison to a traditional firm. I am not answerable to any partners financially and I carry no debt. In short, the rule of three doesn’t apply to me.
A client recently told me that the best free coffee he ever had was at a prestigious firm of solicitors locally. They charged him £350 an hour plus VAT for their (excellent) services. I suggested that he had perhaps enjoyed the most expensive cup of coffee in his life. My charging rate is typically £120 per hour inclusive. I’ll even throw in a coffee from your favourite coffee shop if you like.
So, what are you waiting for? Better call Rob.