So what can lawyers do to make procurement of legal services more palatable for clients in lean times? For starters, they can take a lesson from some of the initiatives that retailers are adopting to retain customers and stimulate sales in the holiday season. I've listed some of these measures below, and I'll leave it to you to determine whether these ideas can work for your practice:
1. Show Clients Your Budget Options
Not surprisingly, upscale grocery store Whole Foods (dubbed Whole Paycheck by some) is suffering in this economy. Sure, folks always need to eat, but when you're unemployed, the first items cut from the grocery list are discretionary luxuries like imported cheeses or handmade pastas. So rather than risk losing to pedestrian grocery stores those customers who once willingly shelled mega-bucks for these kinds of goodies, Whole Foods has shifted its marketing to highlight its best values for customers, reports the Washington Post. Now, Whole Food gives "Value Tours" of its stores to teach customers about saving by buying in bulk and dispenses tips on finding bargains on its blog. And for the holidays, the store is promoting a list of environmentally-friendly gifts that cost less than $20. Though teaching customers to cut costs may result in less profit for Whole Foods, in the long run, the strategy allows the store to retain customers who will merrily resume more lavish spending when the economy turns around.
Lawyers can implement a Whole Foods-like strategy by identifying ways for clients to keep their legal fees low. Perhaps a client can't afford your deluxe estate planning package right now, but can pay for the bare essentials. When the economy improves, the client might decide to pay for an upgrade. For some cases, clients can save money by doing some of the legwork themselves. You might, for example, tell corporate clients that you can draft their incorporation papers but let them take care of the filing on their own to save extra fees.
Or instead of charging clients each time they call for a status update, you could implement a secure online portal or project management tool (such as Basecamp or Zoho) where clients can check on the progress of their case themselves or download documents rather than calling you.
2. Layaway Plans
This holiday season, retailers are increasingly reviving an old payment strategy, according to istock Analyst: the layaway plan. Under a typical layaway plan, customers select the item they want to purchase, which the store sets aside or "lays away." Every week or two weeks, the customer makes an installment payment for the item -- for example, in the case of Boscov's Department store, a customer must pay either 10 percent or $5 every two weeks until the merchandise is paid off, at which point it is released to the customer. There is no charge for the Boscov layway program, though there is a $5 cancellation fee if the customer decides midway not to make the purchase. Since many customers cannot qualify for credit cards, or prefer to reserve credit cards for emergencies only, layaway plans allow customers to budget and pre-pay for items that they could not otherwise afford.