That’s a great question, isn’t it? I’ve overheard and been a part of many conversations that ask just that question. These are business owners who value the advice and counsel of an attorney and don’t think they can afford it. Ideally, they would like to have an attorney on staff, whether as official “in-house counsel,” or as senior executive where he or she can help with company operations and also keep a handle on the business’s day-to-day legal needs. The cost to have in-house counsel is prohibitive for many . . . especially small businesses. Better yet, what about the “micro business?” Those with annual revenues from a few hundred thousand up to a few million (as defined by the government). Having such advice at their fingertips is surely out of reach. Or is it?
Well, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that being “small” or “micro” does not mean that the business is unsuccessful, easy to run, or without risks. As a matter of fact, these businesses are the ones that most need legal advice and are the least likely to get it. In many cases, because the cost is too high as it relates to their revenues and other expenses. This post, albeit slightly dated, is a great example of a new model for providing legal services to businesses.
After you read that, you are probably thinking, “oh, sure, there are five firms listed that provide that kind of service (although I’m sure there are more), and even so, it still seems geared toward a larger business than mine.” I hear you. Literally, I have heard that comment before. And it is my goal to solve that quandary for many micro- and small-businesses. My two passions in the law are business planning/counsel and estate planning. I really don’t seek out other practice areas because I know that I will provide the best service and product to my clients if I concentrate on my passion. But the model I learned in law school and through the guidance of excellent mentors is broke . . . at least in my opinion. I was taught two different billing models for having an ongoing “relationship” with business clients: (1) straight hourly billing, and (2) retainer/hourly billing. The first is the traditional method to which everyone is accustom: you multiply your hourly rate by how many hours you worked for a client in a given month and that is the bill. The second involves a monthly retainer (flat amount) that “buys” you a certain number of hours. The latter is a way to exchange a fixed monthly rate (helps the law firm with cash flow) for a lower hourly rate (benefits the client), typically. Anything over that is charged at the hourly rate (normal or discounted depending on the arrangement). I didn’t like either option because I didn’t feel it allowed me to have the level of relationship with my clients that I wanted to have . . . to be the trusted advisor they turned to no matter what the issue. It actually discouraged my clients from calling me – what kind of a lawyer/client relationship is that and how does it benefit the client or the lawyer?? Good question.
For the past several months I’ve been working on a model much like what is talked about in the article mentioned above, with one key difference – it is geared toward micro- and small-businesses only. Not only are these businesses desperately in need of sound legal and business counsel, they are the businesses I most enjoy working with. This model is based on an affordable, monthly fixed-fee that encompasses the most commonly requested and needed legal items, as well as some additional benefits to make sure the business and the business owner are positioned to maximize growth based on what level of risk is acceptable for them. Which monthly plan to pick is up to the client. No more worrying about getting a bill every time you call; no more trying not to use up all of the retainer you have with your attorney. And it is this approach that led to me be designated as a Creative Business Lawyer™. I will explain what that is and what that means to business owners throughout the Grand Rapids and West Michigan area in a future blog post.
Remember, each business owner must make their own decision. If a relationship-based model is not what you want, then this is likely not for you. If it is, you owe it to yourself to learn more.