Charles Handy says lawyers should be paid for the job done, not for how long they spent on it
There are two ways of paying people to work for you. You can either pay a wage which buys their time. You tell them what to do with that time.
Or, you pay them a fee which is for work done and delivered.
Now, I pay my cleaning lady a wage. When she arrives, I tell her what to do and much of the time is spent having coffee with her. That is my privilege to spend her time like that and I hope her pleasure.
On the other hand, there’s my lawyer. He rings me up in the morning to discuss my will and then he says,
“I am sending you a bill because I spent half of yesterday researching whether what you wanted for your dog was legal.”
And I said, “No. I will pay you for my will when it is delivered. When and how you do your research is up to you. I am having a window made for my study – I don’t want the builder to send me a bill half way through for the time he spent measuring it up. That is part of what he has got to include in his calculations for his final bill. It’s the same with you. When the will is delivered to my satisfaction, I will pay your fee.”
He didn’t understand, but I insisted.
Since this pandemic arrived, more people are working from home without supervision, so you can’t check what they are doing or whether they are doing anything. That is part of the delight of it – they are free to work when they want to. They can work in the middle of the night or in the early morning, or, like me, lying on the sofa, thinking.
But then you have to specify – and they have to agree – what the work is and when it is delivered. They will send you an invoice which may include their time spent but that is up to them. Or they can charge nothing for their time spent and an awful lot for the wisdom in it.
As one of the artists explained when in a court of law he was accused of exploiting his client by charging her £500 an hour to paint her portrait: “It’s £500 per hour plus a lifetime of experience and experiment”.
Same with me when I charge my clients a fee. They are buying my so called wisdom, accumulated over many mistakes.
So, when the painter comes to paint your house, you will pay him a fee when the work is done but that means you have no right to complain when you find him calling his mates on the phone out in the garden when you think he should be painting. If you want him working all the time, you have to pay him a wage and then you will have to supervise him and check his coming and going – which is an awful waste of time.
The great delight of working from home is the freedom to do what you like when you like and you build it all into your calculation for your fee and everybody’s happy.
So, just work out whether you are paying your painter a fee or a wage, but remember if you are paying him a wage then it is your responsibility to supervise his work. If you pay him a fee, then you just don’t pay it if you don’t like what he has done at the end.
Fees or wages, make up your mind.
Charles Handy’s books on management have sold over a million copies and have changed the way we view business and society. His latest book, 21 Letters, is now available in paperback and on audiobook. Read more here. Charles suffered a stroke in 2019 following the death of his wife in a car crash in 2018. This piece was dictated to his carer.