I received a really nice email from a client today who ended up having his case dismissed on summary disposition because our states highest court reversed decades of its own prior precedent in order to reach the political result that it desired. Incredibly the court offered no retro-activity for those attorneys and clients who had relied on the prior court precedent in the handling of the statute of limitations issues which it addressed.
Despite the outcome, the client sincerely appreciated the way that we handled the matter, including a waiver of several thousand dollars in fees at the end of the case once the state supreme court changed the law. There was certainly no requirement to waive those fees under the retainer agreement. It was not our fault that the states highest court over ruled its prior precedent. But, it did seem the right thing to do given our constant push to share a level of risk with the client. Many firms would be shocked by an approach which penalized the firm for essentially doing nothing wrong. I think that it is critical that attorneys always have some skin in the game, as they would if the matter was being handled purely on a contingency fee. The goal is not simply to collect as much money from the client as possible. The goal is to deliver results. When those results are not achieved, even when the lawyer has done their very best, there ought to be some sharing of the risk.
The good will that was fostered with the client over our approach strengthens a relationship which I suppose should be broken at this point. A couple thousand dollars in fees which we voluntarily waived, I believe, will be made up down the line by the handling of further matters for the client, or referrals from the client. This would indeed be an unusual result if client referrals were generated from a client who ended up having his underlying case thrown out of court.
The feedback I am getting from my clients over my approach tells me that our business model is working and is the only one that makes sense for us. By thinking outside the "hourly billing" box, we are able to achieve things in term of client relations that no traditional hourly billing firm could ever achieve.