The Art of the Fee Quote

Solo practice can be intimidating. There are seemingly a bajillion things to learn, not just in terms of your practice area, but also in terms of running a business. But a couple of the skills that often get short shrift when learning how to practice on your own is the ability to set your rates and the ability to quote your fee to your client.

The Delivery

One of the biggest issues that I see in new solos (including myself early on) is their struggle to explain their rates. For some reason, newer attorneys almost feel a sense of shame when they discuss their fee with clients. But there is no quicker way to make a client question your rates than when you lack confidence in your delivery.

Experienced attorneys have several advantages in this arena. First, they have had time to hone their sales pitch. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to work with a more seasoned attorney, you’ve seen that when it comes time to explain their rates or give a client a quote, there is very little variation in their delivery. Older attorneys have been able to see what resonates with clients and what turns a client off. Now, this isn’t an easy thing to master unless you have quoted your fee numerous times, and obviously, it takes practice. But the one skill that you need to hone quickly is your ability to look the client in the eye and quote them a fee that you believe in.

The Price is Right

So how do you feel good about your rates when you are just starting out? Certainly, there are a lot of ways to value your time and effort. But one of the easiest is to ask around and find out what other attorneys are charging. Get an idea of what the marketplace looks like, and set your rate. In fact, make this your mantra, “set it and forget it.” If you feel like there is wiggle room in your fee, it will likely come across in your delivery.

One thing you won’t see from experienced attorneys is the fatal practice of trying to explain away or apologize for the rates that they are charging. There is little value in bartering or playing with the numbers while you are quoting your services to your client; it signals that your prices are arbitrary and inflated. But if you can quote one fee with confidence, it says to the client that you know what you are doing (even if you don’t), and that your fee is the best you can offer (even if it isn’t).

Shift the Conversation

Rather than waver back and forth on what your client is spending, spend your time and energy discussing what your clients are getting. Tout the value of your services rather than talk about the cost of them. Make your clients walk out of their meeting with you absolutely jazzed about having you as their lawyer. A lot of this comes from fine-tuning your delivery, but if you start by believing in the value of your services yourself, it will come much, much more quickly. And if you are still having trouble justifying the cost of your services, just take a look at your student loan balance. Really look at it.

Originally published on August 11th, 2011 and updated on July 11th, 2019


  1. Avatar Naomi Fein says:

    I comment as an ex-office manager for a small law firm and, now, a plaintiff in two lawsuits. You might encourage lawyers to be firm but not aggressive, defensive or unpleasant about rates. I dropped one lawyer who was curt to me, a client who had been paying his fees for a long time and always on time, when I tried to discuss whether he could be flexible, i.e., space out, not cut, his fees.
    Lawyers could develop plans incorporating some flexibility when dealing with a client who is not rich. An open discussion of what the expenses might be, as well as a sympathetic talk about where the money is coming from would be good.
    I didn’t fire that lawyer because of his fee (although the lawyer I hired to replace him has a far more reasonable rate). I fired him because I didn’t like his attitude.

  2. Avatar Henry says:

    I found that the hard part of describing my fees was the transition to that part of the conversation. I modified what a friend uses which is an explanation of how he decides whether to take cases. The first part is whether or not there’s a reasonable chance of success and whether or not, at the end of the matter, the client will feel the investment of time and money has been worth it. Which segues nicely into a discussion of that I also have to consider whether the case will be worth my time and effort – and that is, of course, my fees. Then I discuss my fee arrangement for that type of case.

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