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From Quote to Contract: Online Proposal Generators

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So, I’ve been thinking and teaching  about the 21st Century Retainer Agreement (for those who attended the last event, the ebook is coming soon; for those who missed it, we’re scheduling another webinar in August), specifically ways to streamline the drafting process.  Flat fee or one-off retainer agreements aren’t all that tough (my upcoming ebook will have a bunch of samples), but for lawyers like myself who handle more complex or protracted matters, the process of drafting the scope of work and payment provisions of a given agreement sometimes takes longer than I’d like.  Moreover, in jurisdictions where  flat fees must go into IOLTA and aren’t treated “as earned” until work is performed , it’s important to specify milestones along the way where payment is deemed earned, or it might be years before a case finishes and you can take payment.

So, I got to thinking, what’s the best way to devise a case plan that depicts the different phases and identifies milestones?  Of course, a word document or spreadsheet works just fine, but I wanted something more elegant, that I could use both for proposals to clients and as a scope of work and payment schedule for a retainer.  I couldn’t come up with anything law-specific, so I took a look at online proposal generators for freelancers and consultants, where I hit pay dirt.

Online proposal generators help streamline the process of creating a project proposal.  Users can identify and describe tasks, performance deadlines and price, and also include stock language such as credentials of lawyers and other personnel expected to staff the project or description of the firm’s policy.  The stock terms can be re-used from proposal to proposal.  The finished product is impressive: a well-formatted, professional looking document that takes far less time to create than using a word template.

Not only do online generators allow you to impress potential clients, they help streamline the process of sealing the deal.  Once a client accepts the proposal, you can simply incorporate the scope of work into your retainer letter and users to easily create a bid for a project, and include the proposal as an attachment.  The proposal will also include a schedule for meeting certain milestones and associated payment (e.g., 30% of fee due before preliminary hearing, 40% due after depositions, etc…).  That means if you’ve collected a flat fee upfront and placed it in your trust account (as some jurisdictions require), you can release the fee under the schedule set in your proposal.  Otherwise, you’d be required to wait until the case is over to collect the fee (again, this is true only in jurisdictions where a flat fee isn’t treated as earned on receipt; earned on receipt fees can go directly into your operating account).

The quote generators aren’t pricy. I played around with Bidsketch, Quote Robot  and Quote Roller . Bidsketch had a few more features but is also priciest and locks users in for a year. The other two services allow for month-to-month purchase, either $10 (Quote Robot) or $8.99 (Quote Robot).

Although I consider expenditures under $10 per month fairly insignificant, I hesitate to minimize them after last month’s heated discussion at Lawyerist over whether twenty or thirty bucks a month for practice management tools is a waste.  So while you’ll have to draw your own conclusions based on your unique situation, for a firm like mine, these quote tools are fully cost justified.  Although many times, I’m asked for a proposal as a formality, in other cases, I’m competing against lower-priced consultants or larger shops for projects that start at $20,000 and often hit six figures. In that context, spending $75 to $100 per year to generate several nice looking proposals not only makes sense from an ROI (return on investment) standpoint but it’s also cheaper than even delegating the work to an assistant or law clerk.

Do you create proposals or schedules for your clients, and if so, what products do you use to generate them?

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