The old adage, “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it” came to mind when speaking with a client recently. He asked for a menu of services with prices. This is something that we, at Magnus, have never published because our fees/prices vary depending on the specific details of a case. During our discussion, the client came to understand the difficulties of creating such a price list. Yet, I get it. I am frustrated when I look at something for sale and I can’t see the price tag. In some cases, there is no price tag; other times it is obscured. I know there are many things I can’t afford, and while it is off putting to have to ask, I will often ask, especially if I’m curious. (As an aside, not too long ago, I was in the showroom of a luxury car dealership and, just out of curiosity, I asked the price on the Ferraris they had for sale, although they actually had base prices on the cars. I couldn’t stop myself even knowing I would not be able to afford any of those beautiful automobiles.) But, it is not always about being able to afford it. Sometimes, it is a matter of being able to comprehend the price, how it is calculated and how it might be structured, in our world, for a specific case. For example, are the services hourly, on a project basis, and what are the “extras”? I am concerned that, sometimes, prospective clients are hesitant to ask about our services out of a fear of not knowing the price “ball park.” I’m concerned they may fear that can’t, or their client can’t, afford it. This is an issue which is often on my mind. My primary solution has always been to offer “free” proposals (they aren’t really free, at least not to me, in terms of my time in preparing them). In many proposals, I provide more than one option and price point to consider. And, I try to express a willingness to come up with a methodology to meet the needs of the client if there is a budget threshold. In over 30 years of presenting prices, I have been in the position to adjust prices a few times. That is, I’ve occasionally been asked to come up with less costly options. In a few cases, I have had clients who said they wanted to spend more, that is to do more, than what I originally proposed. Those are my favorite clients, of course! I know the expense of mock jury research is always worth many times the dollars spent on it. (A fact that is very difficult to quantify.) Back to my client’s request – the best I can offer is to provide ranges of prices on a limited menu of services. I can only hope this satisfies the need for up front pricing guidance and that they will ask for a more detailed price.
I know David would be disappointed if I didn’t mention my favorite slogan about prices. My dad was born in Medart, Florida, which is located in Wakulla County. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wakulla County, it is located in the Florida Panhandle, near Tallahassee, although culturally speaking, it is worlds away!) I had the wonderful experience of living in Ivan, near Crawfordville, also in Wakulla County, while I attended graduate school at FSU. During my years there, I learned to appreciate the local ways of saying and doing things. One of my favorite ads in the weekly newspaper, The Wakulla News, was for stump grinding services. The ad listed the prices for stump grinding as “$5.00 and up. Mostly up.” This always amused me and, to this day, when someone asks me how much Magnus’ prices are, I often answer by quoting the stump grinding ad. I then follow up by asking how much the prospective client would like to know. If they only want to know a little bit of information, the fee for our services is, of course, less than if they want to know a lot! (As I often remind David, I think I am funny, even if no one else appreciates my humor.) Seriously, however, there is nothing Magnus offers its clients that most people would consider inexpensive or bargain priced. My hourly rate, when clients are billed by the hour, is similar to the hourly rate charged by top attorneys. When we charge a client a project based fee, it is for an amount of money that takes into account many things. David spends countless hours calculating each client’s prices based on their requirements for factors such as: (1) the number of mock jurors or research participants they want to include; (2) the length of time they need to make their presentations; and (3) the complexity of the case. The latter factor is essential because, as one might imagine, it is easier for me to read legal documents and make other preparations on a simple case, such as an automobile accident, than on a complex case, such as a patent infringement case involving highly technical issues. Just as with those lovely Ferrari cars David and I saw in a Miami showroom, Magnus’ work is custom made for every client. Unlike buying a new Ferrari, however, the client can take delivery of our excellent product relatively soon instead of waiting 2 or 3 years for a shiny new car!