What are the most common objections that a new client has while working with an independent lawyer?
How can you deal with such objections effectively, maintain your pricing and secure the client’s mandate?
Here are the most common objections of clients received from potential clients, with the implications for your practice, as you hear the objections.
Objection: Your quote is too expensive. My budget is x (usually a tiny fraction of your quote).
What the objection implies for your practice: The client has a low budget, has not understood much about how a lawyer can add value and wants a discount.
Objection: What is your prior experience in this area? How many other clients have you served before?
What the objection implies for your practice: This objection is a challenge to your credibility. The client also follows this up with another question, “If your experience is limited or you have not worked on this issue before, then why is your quote so high?”
Objection: Another lawyer has offered to do this work for y% of the fee. Can you give me a better deal?
What the objection implies for your practice: If you offer that price, you will probably work at a loss. One is compelled to consider what the client is saying, for fear of losing the client, if we don’t reduce the price further.
Objection: I don’t need you to draft the whole contract – can you send me a template? I will customize the draft for my needs on my own.
What the objection implies for your practice: This implies that the client wants free service.
Objection: I will draft the contract from the template – can you review it please? What will that cost?
What the objection implies for your practice: This is a subtle hint from the client, who is looking at knocking off a huge component of your pricing.
Objection: I can find templates for free on the internet. Why are you charging me so much? You just have to key in the facts.
What the objection implies for your practice: The client is not sophisticated and has no idea about the value that your legal services will add.
Objection: You are a fresher, with no prior experience. Why should I give you the work instead of going to a more established lawyer?
Objection: If I have to pay so much, why should I not brief a big law firm instead?
What these objections imply for your practice: This is an aggressive objection. The client wants a discount but is asking for it more effectively, by taking two steps backward and questioning why he or she should give you the work in the first place, or why the client should not go to a better lawyer than you.
If you are unprepared, this objection will make you want to give away something, such as shaving off a huge component of the fee.
Objection: I cannot pay you so much for a single notice/ contract/ petition – could you instead send me a retainer quote for all my legal work?
What the objection implies for your practice: The client wants a discount, and is offering you the incentive of receiving more work. Unfortunately, in many of these cases, the client is himself or herself not clear about what the work is, but is still negotiating for a volume-based discount.
Objection: Let me discuss internally and get back to you. (the client disappears after that)
Objection: My partner/ team is not agreeing to the pricing. Please reduce the cost by x%.
What the objection implies for your practice: This is again an attempt to secure a huge discount by introducing an unknown variable over which you have no control, that is, the client’s partner or the internal team.
Consistently facing these objections and not being able to address them effectively can be very demoralizing.
The objections mentioned are received after sending the quote, when you have invested time and energy looking into the matter, and may even be optimistic about securing a new client.
It is hard to walk away, and the objections completely take your plans off-track.
If you could handle them effectively, you could not only convert clients more effectively, but also charge them an appropriate fee that respects your time and intellectual work.
To understand the objections better, let me introduce you to the fundamental concerns that any client has before he or she approaches a lawyer.
Irrespective of what the client’s objection is, the client is really articulating one or more of the fundamental concerns to you.
If you can understand the and concern and address it, you will be able to deal with the objection successfully.
Fundamental concerns of any client who approaches a lawyer
As you go through the list of concerns below, try to relate these concerns from your past experiences with clients.
#1 – How can I trust you?
The client wants to understand how he or she can trust your services.
Let me break this down further.
The client is really thinking of the following questions:
- Do you understand the problem that I am facing?
- How do I know that you have identified the correct problem?
- Can you spot any areas that I may have missed?
- Are you competent to deliver what you have proposed?
- Have you delivered these services before, or are you going to do that for the first time with respect to my matter?
- Will you be available and respond to my queries after I give you the mandate, or will you ignore my calls?
- Will you adhere to service delivery within the timelines promised?
- How do I know that you will not mess up something else that is already working?
- How can I trust your quote to be fair? How do I know that you are not overcharging me?
#2 – Have you identified the correct problem? Are so many steps really needed to solve the problem?
Do not expect a client to be very precise about his or her legal needs. You will need to help the client in figuring that out.
A client may state that he wants to execute a co-founders agreement, but what is actually needed may be a shareholders agreement, an executive employment agreement and an ESOP Plan.
Alternatively, a client may approach you with a shoestring budget for a shareholders agreement, and if you ask enough relevant questions, you will realise that drafting a co-founders agreement will solve the issue.
You may also need to assist the client with prioritisation – which problems need to be solved first, in light of the client’s business goals? Which problems can be solved later, say, one or two months down the line?
Accordingly, identify the legal services necessary.
Then proceed to answer the question – which steps are mandatory for solving the most important problem for the client?
This question will lead you to identify what the client values most.
The client will also be amazed at your ability if you follow such a precise approach.
Do not assume that merely because the client has asked you for a fee quote for a particular service, that he or she has a need for that service.
#3 – How will your solution solve my problem?
The client needs insights on how your solution will solve the problem.
Often, merely filing a civil suit, or sending a legal notice and subsequently filing a criminal complaint does not solve the problem.
You will need to provide a list of additional steps through which the client can see some kind of window for closure of the legal problem.
You do not need to guarantee the outcome, but you need to share a solution with detailed steps to indicate a higher likelihood of resolution and obtaining an outcome.
Let me share from my experience as a potential client.
I once briefed a lawyer on a personal matter. He did not offer me a solution or any strategy. He merely sent me a quote of his charges for briefing a senior advocate to take further advice!
Imagine what the client will think if you do this.
This should have been the preparatory work of the lawyer. At least, I should not have to pay for this!
You can guess what happened next. I never spoke to that lawyer again.
Even though the client may not be very well-versed about the legal system, the client needs to be educated on his or her problem and the solution to it.
This is important to onboard the client to obtain services from you, even though the client’s own understanding of the issue may not alter the actions that you need to take.
This is your opportunity as an independent lawyer to demonstrate higher value to the client.
You stand a better chance of securing the client’s mandate and that too at a higher fee if you are able to address this concern properly.
It is like visiting a doctor when you are unwell. The doctor will ask you a few conditions, diagnose your situation and write a prescription.
The doctor may also prescribe a few tests, requesting you for a follow-up appointment when you obtain the reports.
As far as the medical diagnosis is concerned, this would be sufficient.
However, nowadays doctors in good hospitals go a step further. They explain in greater depth why they have prescribed specific medicines and the role that each medicine will pay to relieve the patient’s symptoms or to cure the ailment.
They also state why they are prescribing specific tests. When they examine the reports, if something is unusual, they explain its implications.
Even though the patient’s understanding is not materially relevant for the prescription or the treatment of the disease, it builds the confidence of the patient in the doctor’s advice.
The situation with a lawyer’s client is similar.
For example, if you are drafting a supply agreement, or a distribution agreement, how will your contract take care of the specific needs of the client, with respect to time, delayed delivery, quality, or other important issues with the supplier/ distributor?
Which unforeseen issues can you identify and highlight to the client? Why is it important for the client to take care of those issues in the way that you suggest? What could be the risks of not addressing those issues?
Similarly, if you are drafting a character merchandising agreement, or a franchising agreement, what are the key client interests that you will protect? What are the unique requirements of the situation? How will this contract be different from other character merchandising or franchising deals that you may have worked on? Which interests will be harder to negotiate with the other side and which ones will be easier?
Address these concerns, and you will go a long way in building credibility with the client.
If you are reviewing an investment agreement for a promoter, how will you take care of the promoter’s key concerns? Which concerns are of topmost interest for the promoter, but may be overlooked by the promoter?
If you are assisting the client with recovery of money, which actions will increase the likelihood of recovery while reducing the time spent on litigation? What steps will be important to obtain a favourable settlement?
Your role here is educational. The client has the right to be informed fully about how your proposed solution will address the problem.
There is no better way than to demonstrate this by highlighting issues and aspects that are very important to the client, but which the client may himself have missed.
If you highlight a new issue that is relevant, the client also feels assured that you have fully understood his or her problem.
It builds trust and assures the client that you are on his side, and that you are not exclusively focussed upon receiving your legal fees.
It also places you in a position where you can address the next two concerns (pointed out below) very powerfully.
#4 – How much effort does it take for you to deliver the solution? Can you quantify it?
This concern is not addressed by offering lump sum pricing or by offering hourly billing.
You need to quantify the time required to deliver the solution.
Most lawyers are unable to approximate how much time it will take to deliver the solution owing to lack of knowledge and practice, which seriously hurts their ability to inspire the client’s trust.
You need to offer the following information at this stage to the client:
- Detailed list of steps you will take and all the legal work involved in each step (notices, contracts, petition-drafting, discussions, iterations, negotiations, public searches, etc.)
- Amount of time taken for each step to be completed. The time proposed should be realistic. You can write a brief explanation against the time mentioned, especially if there is a chance that the client may believe it to be overstated.
- A range of follow-on steps to take depending on the outcomes of the previous steps
- Some comments on the likelihood that this strategy will work out (you don’t need to guarantee the outcome), and identification of contingencies. What could go wrong or delay the outcome? What would your broad plan be then?
You are essentially showing the working or the calculation for your quote.
A more detailed working shows your homework and competence to a client.
This step requires comprehensiveness of research and familiarity with multiple practice areas.
After this, it is easier to charge, say, INR 2000-3000, even INR 5000 per hour, depending on the nature of the work.
Lawyers often struggle to provide this clarity, owing to a lack of knowledge about the relevant subject matter, lack of practice and inability to access training and mentors.
For example, let us assume there is a commercial dispute involving a foreign company and its JV company in India, regarding breach of a license granted to the JV.
The JV is violating a term of the license agreement and continuing to manufacture and sell the products under the license agreement, despite a notice of termination issued by the foreign investor.
Would you advise initiation of arbitration, or trademark infringement proceedings, or initiate some proceeding before the NCLT, or a combination of all?
Only a lawyer who is familiar with all three forms of dispute resolution can create a comprehensive strategy for the foreign client.
If a lawyer is familiar with only one or two of the methods, he may create a piecemeal strategy that does not fully account for all the ramifications.
#5 – What is the solution worth to me? How can I understand that better?
This concern pertains to the client being able to identify the value of the services for himself or herself.
Lawyers seldom work on this aspect with potential clients, but this is very important.
While clients may appreciate that they need legal assistance, the benefits of high-quality legal service and the consequences of not receiving such services from you are usually not clear to clients.
After you have quantified your effort to the client, assist the client in identification of the value generated from the client’s perspective.
Let me explain.
You may charge, say, INR 40,000 for a set of two contracts.
Now, a client who is negotiating the fee with you may save anywhere between INR 5000 to, probably INR 30,000, depending on which lawyer they approach.
How will the others not address the client’s concerns in the same way at that price? How will that lead to a bigger risk in the future of a few lakhs every year, in comparison to a few thousands that the client intends to save now?
You must have this conversation with the client, and it is not a petty conversation at all. It is a really important aspect of the client onboarding process.
I will give you some examples now.
If the startup has 50,000 customers out of which 0.1 percent, that is, 50 customers litigate, would the cost of defense, or even settlement of those disputes through a senior customer support manager, be around INR 2-3 lakhs?
What if the app grows to a million paying customers? What could the costs of defending 0.1% of the claims be in that scenario? Consider legal fees, cost of lost revenues from reputational harm and the time spent by managers and employees in dealing with the situation.
Will it be worth paying INR 20,000 more to you if you deal with the situation comprehensively right now?
Chances are that the client will agree to your fees even if it costs more than your competition, because you have explained the detailed solution, quantified your effort and you are now explaining the long-term benefit to the client.
However, independent lawyers frequently face a lack of practical knowledge and insights, owing to which they are unable to extrapolate future scenarios in this level of detail.
Some clients will not be interested in a very elaborate solution and they will tell you this when you quantify your own time in providing the solution.
For those clients, you can offer a simplified version of your services, which will reduce your scope of work and effort and correspondingly, the cost for the client.
In this situation, you will secure the client without there being any mismatch in expectations.
This is also a win-win situation for both – your client and you.
How to address these concerns as an independent practitioner – a quick summary
Here is a quick summary of actions from your side which will address these concerns of your clients.
#1 – Build your own credibility
If your clients are following you on social media, reading your articles or newsletters and watching your videos for a few months, their concern about whether they can trust you and whether you have identified the correct problem will already be addressed significantly before they approach you.
They would have properly understood their own problem in greater depth by reading your content.
If you have authored guest posts on websites such as FirstPost, Bloomberg Quint, the Wire, iPleaders blog, or you have been mentioned in the newspapers, clients will already perceive you to be an expert, irrespective of how many matters you have worked on earlier.
You may not achieve the same result by placing your profile on a lawyers’ listing website such as Soolegal, Lawyered or Lawrato, to the exclusion of publishing your articles and videos on your own website, social media and other blogs, because these websites function like directories, and may help you land some client introductions.
Building your credibility and onboarding clients effectively is the next step.
If you work on building your own credibility, it may help you in generating clients more effectively through such legal platforms, and on your own as well.
#2 – Understand the client’s past experience with lawyers
It may be frustrating to hear the same objections from clients everyday, but for a new client who is considering giving the first mandate to you, it is important that you hear him or her out and address those objections.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Have the patience to listen to the client’s concern and acknowledge them. The concerns are real and not invalid.
- Do not react. You cannot afford to get angry or frustrated. It will not help you in obtaining the client’s mandate or demonstrating how you are a better service provider than your competitors.
- Frame the choice for the client. The real choice is not, “Should I pay x amount to you for this work?” It is actually, “Is it worth paying x amount to you now if I can save 100x or 1000x in future costs?”
- Let the client make an informed choice. It is fine if the client walks away. You have provided all the necessary information to the client. Let the client choose, and do not be attached to the outcome. The game is not over if the client does not brief you. Only 10-20% of the clients will immediately convert, and the others may come back to you later. For those clients who do not immediately give you the mandate, there are a number of other actions you can take to stay in touch and deliver value, without soliciting.
- Occasionally, you may need to handle further objections. For example, if the client asks why you can’t do the work for half the fees because he just received a quote from another lawyer at 50% of the fees, you can say something like this:
“I’ll give you a list of five questions which you must ask the other lawyer. If he can answer those questions, it means that he knows the work and you can brief him instead. If he doesn’t, then you will know about the value that I am offering you. ”
#3 – Make sure that your content reaches your potential client and that you stay in touch even if you do not secure the mandate in the first attempt
One of the biggest mistakes made by lawyers is that they do not stay in touch with clients who have not briefed them.
At this stage, it is important to take a few actions to have some brand recall.
You need to occupy some portion of the client’s mindspace. If they face an unforeseen problem, or if the other lawyer they briefed couldn’t serve them adequately, they should know that they can reach out to you.
Here are a few actions you can take to stay in touch:
- Continue to write newsletters, whitepapers, handbooks, articles and post updates on your social media profiles;
- Share success stories and how you solved problems for a similar target audience (don’t ask for work);
- Invite potential clients who didn’t give you the mandate earlier, to your events and webinars;
- Share information that may be of relevance, such as new content that you specifically created for a particular situation that the potential client was facing. You do not need to ask for work here;
- You can follow up once every quarter over a one-on-one call and speak about the potential client’s upcoming business goals, and share developments in the practice area.
The client must be clear before briefing you that you will act in his interest.
The above efforts demonstrate that you are acting in the client’s interest because you are continuing to provide value despite the client not having given you the mandate earlier.
#4 – Implement a standardized onboarding process to deliver these outcomes reliably
Once you have successfully dealt with the objections of a few clients and secured paid mandates, it is time to implement a standardized onboarding process.
That will reduce error rates and enable you to deliver these results consistently, and ensure a better experience for clients.
With experience, you will also be able to automate or delegate some parts of the client onboarding to your juniors, so that you can focus your energy on the most difficult parts.
Why do independent lawyers struggle to address these concerns?
I am writing the three most common factors that impedes independent lawyers from dealing with these client concerns effectively.
#1 – Lack of knowledge about the legal work is a big challenge – leads to inaccurate or wrong diagnosis and wrong solutions, making your advice unrelatable
Lack of knowledge affect your client interactions in the following ways:
- There is difficulty in understanding the client’s problem. You need to conduct research or read up before you can say anything of relevance to capture the client’s interest in the first conversation. There is also a risk that you may identify the wrong problem owing to lack of prior preparation.
- You do not have the ability or the confidence to give new insights to the client. The client may not be able to relate your insights to his or her experience. This makes it difficult for the client to trust you.
- Given that you do not understand the client’s problem adequately, there are high chances that you may deploy the wrong solution, or that your solution may not be comprehensive. Lack of knowledge has led to a cascading effect, before you have even obtained the mandate from the client.
#2 – Lack of opportunities to practice legal service delivery in a safe environment results in lack of confidence and the danger of your client having to pay for your mistakes
If you have not delivered the services that the client needs earlier, a lack of confidence will manifest itself in multiple ways.
- When you have conversations with clients, you will sound tentative and under confident about the solutions and the strategies that you are proposing to clients. You will not be confident about your delivery capabilities.
- The solutions proposed by you may not be comprehensive enough. You may not take a 360-degree perspective of things and may have a blinkered strategy.
- You will not be able to clearly demonstrate the value that you are adding while handling objections of clients.
- Your quantification of effort and the time it takes to deliver can be disconnected with reality. You may estimate much less time than it actually takes, or severely overestimate the time. This means that your quote will be off the mark. There will be frequent adjustments in the scope of your work with clients.
- You will face a difficulty in assisting the client in identification of business value generated by briefing you. Why should the client brief you and not someone else who can do the work more cheaply? What is the larger risk for the client if he briefs someone else? What larger cost can the client save himself from by engaging you?
#3 – Lack of access to training, resources and mentors makes it difficult to take up complex matters or deal with unexpected twists and turns
Lack of access to training, resources and mentors is a major hindrance to growing your practice.
This is one reason why several independent lawyers are constrained to offer low-value services to clients.
Their services are based on their experience at their earlier law firm jobs or while working with seniors.
You may be able to identify important issues on which the client needs assistance.
The client may even be willing to pay for your services, but you may not feel confident about providing those services.
The work may be more complex or different from the areas that you have worked on, and you do not have access to resources, training or mentors who can guide you.
Instead, you prefer to recommend another lawyer to the client.
Imagine if you are constrained to provide services that you learnt about in the first one or two years of your practice, despite having years of experience as an independent practitioner.
Would that do justice to your clients, or your intellect, or your seniority, or your ambitions?
How would you be compensated for the time and effort spent in nurturing the client?
What higher-value services would you offer a satisfied client so that you can recover the investment of interacting with the client before you secured the mandate?
How will you outsmart the competition or big law firms despite having your own niche?
Do you want to learn more about how to address these client objections, successfully onboard new clients and earn more?
If you are interested in learning more, sign up now for the Recession-Proof Practice Workshop, available at a special price of INR 100/-, tomorrow from 7 – 10 pm.
We will work on how you can get 2 new clients per month and earn a supplementary income of INR 2 lakhs per month within a span of 6 months.
You will learn more about the onboarding process that I mentioned above.
We will also give you an exercise to apply the learnings to your practice directly.
Those who participate will find the session to be memorable. In fact, it could be the turning point in your career.
I strongly recommend that you read the following articles and come prepared to extract maximum value from the workshop:
If you are interested, you can directly join our group by clicking on the link below. The group is specifically curated for paralegals.
You will also get access to some other amazing resources through the group as well.