Legal Business

Should you buy Pat Lamb’s new book on alternative fees?

In my opinion, any lawyer who wants to understand the nitty gritty details of how non-hourly fees really work, from pricing to project management, should buy Pat Lamb's new book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market.

To put this into context, people who work with me often remark that I am cost-conscious.  (All right, they say I'm cheap.)  And while I often recommend books (for example, see my Amazon list of the top marketing and sales books for lawyers), I am quite confident that this is the first time I have recommended an 81-page book that costs 295£ (about $445 US).

The reason I am suggesting that you consider spending freely here is that if you bid on and work on alternative fees matters, the information in this volume can help you save many times its price.

Where else could you find an alternative fee pioneer's answers to such frequently asked questions as, "If I use a fixed fee or portfolio fee, how do I make sure that work quality doesn't suffer?" or "I've quoted a fixed fee and have been hired.  Now what do I do to ensure this is a profitable engagement?"

This book is the only place I know of where you can find lists of the factors several law firms use to set fixed prices.  It's not the simple formula many lawyers are looking for, but the advice is very practical and immediate.  My favorite pricing factor was number 13 on Valorem's list:

Client personality - is the contact person of the client high maintenance, low maintenance, or something in-between?  Clients who are indecisive, who endlessly debate minor points, or who endlessly shift strategies consume lawyers and add to the cost of doing business (p. 41).

The chapters on pricing, tools of change (from early case assessment to project management), FAQs for buyers and sellers, and "collateral benefits and damage" all provide nuggets of advice from the trenches that I had not heard before.  To be honest, in several places I was surprised by Pat's commitment to transparency and his willingness to share his own hard earned lessons.

The book even includes a sample process map Valorem developed, outlining "all of the steps typically taken or that could be taken in a case to state or federal court."  There's been an enormous amount of talk about how Six Sigma, Lean, and other approaches can be used to simplify and streamline work processes, but very few detailed law firm examples have been published.  I liked Pat's sample so much that I got his permission to reproduce it in my own new book, The Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide: Tools and Templates to Increase Efficiency.

True, if you're like me, you'll find a few things to disagree about.  My list starts with Pat's emphasis on the phrase "value fees" in the title.  I know ACC loves that term, and am sure that Ron Baker will disagree violently with what I am about to say, but I think the phrase "value fees" puts too much emphasis on the client side of the table.  What buyers want to pay is extremely important to price setting.  But the cost to sellers matters, too - it takes two to tango.  And the most extreme versions of value pricing can lead to odd situations, as suggested by Pat's anecdote about a conversation with the head of one law firm who "once told me of charging two clients two different amounts for what was essentially the same work because the work had different value to each client" (p. 31).

Will this book answer every question you have about alternative fees?  Of course not.  Pat would be the first to tell you that he is still learning how to implement alternative fees.  And I'm guessing there are at least a few tips he could have offered that he held back. 

Maybe I like this book so much because there is nothing theoretical about it.  There's been an awful lot written about alternative fees by people who have had very little personal experience with winning and losing their own money on alternative fee matters.  Pat is a man who has put food on his table by implementing alternative fees; some months there was more food than others.  If you buy this book you will benefit from what he has learned.  It may not be the best book that will ever be written about alternative fees, but it is clearly the best so far.

Full disclosure: Pat has written very nice things about my book too.