For the vast majority of firms that still charge on a time basis, when the need arises, or if you are in any doubt, it is perfectly fine to disclose to the client a revised fee estimate. In fact, in circumstances where you intend to bill above and beyond your initial estimate, you must disclose to the client a revised estimate per state legal profession legislation.
Things change! And it’s OK to revise your estimate and advise the client. Too many law firms simply avoid the conversation and either:
- Send the bill, give the client a rude shock and end up in a fee dispute = bad, or
- Write off all the additional time and bill the original estimate = bad.
Practising solicitors of all levels should feel confident and comfortable contacting their clients to advise of a revised fee estimate. If your costs agreement is well-drafted, you can ensure that you get an agreement upfront from your client that your estimate is exactly that, an estimate, and it may be subject to change. Unforeseen circumstances do arise: a difficult other side, additional document reviews, increased investigations, and more meetings…it could be anything.
Often I advise clients to think the way the retail sector does:
- services get paid as and when provided (not 25 days later),
- adding additional items = increased costs (think a restaurant banquet; if you add more items, the price increases), and
- there should be no re-negotiation at the checkout.
Realisation of the maximum time spent on matters is the key to increased internal efficiency and is much easier to achieve than the continual quest for more clients (that you’ll likely apply similar bad habits to).