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If you don’t set your clients expectations, your client will.

The problem

If you don’t set your clients expectations, your client will. And looking at the research data, this no doubt horrifying scenario is happening to a high percentage of your firms’ clients. Possibly even right now… at this very minute…


So here are some ideas on how to fix the problem.


Tell the story of the work.

  • The story of the work is how you help a client realise the true value of the work. It helps them to realise just how amazing you and your firm are. It will also help them to realise that its not all your fault when things take far too long.

  • Detail how long the work might take to complete, how often you will communicate with them, what you will communicate about, even explain how they might feel at various points along the way. Telling them in a letter isn’t good enough, do it in person.

  • Tell the client what may happen if they don’t do the work at all. Most clients don’t really understand the risks of not getting the right advice – they assume things.

  • Assume your client does not understand the value of the work until you have explained all of these points to them. Possibly twice. So, check, ask them if they really understand.

Put your price point into context.

  • Setting initial pricing expectations are always interesting. Particularly if it’s a distress purchase, of something the client has never bought before. Imagine being sent off to buy something you’ve never bought before. A private jet for example, what do you think would a fair price be for a jet?*

  • It’s the same with legal services – clients have no frame of reference; it is a lawyers job to give them that reference, to set that context.

  • Give them typical examples or a high and low range for the matter at hand (simple vs complex), ideally with your price falling neatly somewhere in the middle. This would make it look reassuringly expensive but not overpriced.

If in doubt, add more value.

  • Cross selling. Done badly, or not done at all a failure to cross sell will risk leaving your poor client exposed. However, the effect of cross selling on the perception of client expectations and client experience is exponential. In short, the more practice areas the client works with in your firm, the more they will like you. Your finance team will like you more too.

What happens when the price needs to go up?

  • It happens, sometimes things change, something unexpected crops up. Most of the time lawyers just swallow the extra workload for free and work late, because they do not know how to have the conversation with the client.

  • The earlier you talk about potential scope change and price increases the better. A discussion before things change is a reason, a discussion afterwards is an excuse.

  • The perfect time is before the work starts – talk to your client, be clear on what could happen to change the scope, and in that event explain exactly how you will handle any extra costs/effort. No one likes to experience ‘bill shock’ after all.

*The internet tells me that new ‘off the shelf’ private jets typically range from £3m to £50m. However, a heavily used private jet can be bought for as little as a two hundred thousand dollars, a bargain for all those budding smugglers!?


About the author

Alex Barr has his own consultancy called Third Bounce. He gets referred as a commercial consultant or business development coach. Working with a company, team or an individual to build what’s needed to hit the number.


The kind of projects Alex gets involved with are:

  • Finding & winning work

  • Referral partner management

  • Client listening & Cross-selling

  • Pricing & Price hygiene

  • Lead Generation

  • Sales leadership for non-sales leaders

  • Go to market strategy

  • Value proposition

  • Key account management

  • Tactical, strategic & enterprise deal-making

  • Growth planning & execution

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