In today’s Wall Street Journal, the writer suggests that high priced lawyers are for sale, that is, that clients are pushing back and demanding lower fees irrespective of the stated hourly rates of their lawyers. The reporter’s perspective is skewed only to the larger law firms, “Big Law.”  Small firm and sole practitioners have always walked this tight rope between client acceptance and lawyers’ fees, but this doesn’t make news.

The battle between lawyer as vendor and client as purchaser has always existed. The “battle”  or adversarial conflict just never received so much publicity as it does now … And yes, some clients have become bolder as a result of the recent Depression (aka Great Recession).

Also, however, some lawyers will raise their purported rates knowing the financial officer of the corporate client will demand a discount. This way, the law firm receives the engagement, the General Counsel gets served and can protect the rights of the company, and the finance officer can assert he/she saved money for the company. A nice game.

A lawyer who was interviewed for the article suggests the real issue for all concerned: The client must believe he/she/it is receiving value for the fee paid. In other words, it’s the total cost of the legal service, not the rate per hour, that is significant. With more clients and attorneys beginning to speak this language, the real issue is coming into focus.