I just completed a $1000 project for a client which concluded very successfully. It was a trademark infringement matter where a competitor used my clients trademark as part of their Google AdWords program. After meeting with the client as a prospect on two occasions, it was clear that I had done my job well in informing the client how difficult it is to pursue federal court litigation and the high cost of that litigation. Over the course of two "free-consultation meetings", I began to feel more comfortable that the client understood the litigation process, the time frames, the budgets and the wide variety of hurdles which could effectively kill the case. The client was interested in taking the first step forward which we basically defined as a $1000 research project. That project was to analyze the most recent Meta Tag and AdWords cases, research some specific bad faith issues related thereto as well as document the clients chronology and documentation potentially supporting his claim. I then went into my basecamp extranet and created a project for him. I identified a milestone (calendering) forty-five days out to complete the project. I then added three categories of to-do lists which involve analysis of documentation and chronology, research and client consultation. The tasks were then assigned to the virtual law clerks, the client and to myself as appropriate. Each task had a time budget.
We were able to complete the research and meet with the client within budget. The meeting at the end of the project went through the chronology and the specific cases as they applied to the facts at had. We spent considerable time educating the client and letting the client know what the next steps would be. For a $1000 budget the client was ecstatic with the project and our deliverables.
There are many lessons to be learned from this approach. One of the most important lessons I believe is that every client matter should be broken down into smaller pieces. In a traditional hourly firm, the firm would have simply signed the client on a retainer agreement and they would have been off. There probably would have never been an exact definition of tasks or deliverables. The next client involvement might have been months down the line after the project and the case had a life of its own.
This matter may be resolved in litigation. But, the first small step was perhaps the most important. And by taking small steps, the client is able to make intelligent decisions as the matter moves forward. The client can decide that it is not in his business interest to pursue it at any step along the way ( ie. at the end of each specific project.)
From the law firms side, we were able to keep this within budget because it was a narrowly defined project. We dramatically reduced the amount of variables which might have driven the costs up. The next project that we have defined is equally small and well defined as the first.
This reminds me of a lesson my grandmother used to teach. Take small bites, chew your food well and you will enjoy your meal. Too often, law firms treat clients as an all you can eat buffet, by the time the client runs out of money, the law firm is gorged in fat. Perhaps cases and matters for clients should be viewed as 1000 course meals each prepared and served separately with a little time out between courses.