How banning timesheets revolutionised my business

By Sameer Karim, CEO, Douglas Wemyss Solicitors, and Ernst & Young Future 5 Entrepreneur…

When I took over Douglas Wemyss Solicitors in the Midlands it was a regional law firm with traditional methods – just as our competitors did, we time-recorded our work and billed clients almost to the minute.

It wasn’t long before I realised – and the penny dropped pretty damn fast due to the recession – that we needed to take a revolutionary approach. Clients increasingly didn’t like hourly rates or archaic law industry working practices such as formal, strictly-appointment-only meetings. The way we worked was becoming a hindrance to commercial activity.

In response we chose to get rid of hourly rates immediately and offer fixed fees instead. And not only would we offer fixed fees, we’d also give clients the ability to get to know us – and for us to get to know them – before billing them at all. Only when both parties had deciphered exactly what was required would a fee be fixed, depending on the job. And it’s a fee that doesn’t change: it’s capped. Full transparency. No surprises.

By introducing fixed fees and a far more modern, entrepreneurial approach, we’ve shown it’s possible to take the legal services market in a new direction. As a law firm we can’t change the services we provide, but where we can innovate is in the way we provide those services, where there are no constraints except traditionalism.

From our perspective there are advantages and disadvantages to fixed fees and free preliminary work. Sometimes we must do more than is appropriate for the fixed fee. But the major advantage is the reduction of client retention and acquisition costs through improved client loyalty and by allowing us to stand out in the market.

With corporate clients we also now offer a fixed monthly retainer for our legal services: they pay a fee and in return get access to a legal team that in effect provides all their legal requirements.

One of the biggest bugbears among clients is uncertainty over legal fees. We’ve removed that uncertainty by innovating a service that’s been stuck in its ways for decades.