Dragging up part of an old retainer agreement just to prove a point here. As you can see from this example, if the case went to depositions, the law firm intended to charge almost fifteen dollars a page to me, the client. Let’s just say that in New York at that time, 2014, it was pretty easy to find someone to do it for 4. Many of my contemporaries were working for $3.25 a page or less. Being somewhat shy, I never bothered to ask why that was so high or explain the going rate of a stenographer.
But this should raise some questions for us in the field. If this was in a retainer, what kind of rates are really being charged for our services? Is there really a race to the bottom? Certainly, some owners have bid low to get contracts, and that can hurt our fees, but I have felt for a long time that if we started to see invoices from various law firms around the city and state, we’d see a pattern emerge of winners and losers.
The losers are undoubtedly those who do not make it part of their business to learn what they are truly worth. Learn exactly what the market will bear and demand it. The lucky thing about being a loser, I can say from experience, is that it is a mindset more than a personality trait. We all have the capability of changing our minds, pulling ourselves out of a worker mentality of “I will work and get what they pay” to “What is my value really?”
In deciding your rates and what you want in life, you should create a simple spreadsheet or list. You can use Google Sheets today for free. Write down all of your expenses. Your business and personal expenses. How much is your food, shelter, supplies per month? Add to those expenses any business expenses you might have to improve your business. Think classes, certifications, equipment. You take that list of expenses, and you have the absolute bear minimum you must make. Now consider what you would like to make. Go over to my math tables on how many pages you need to make your desired annual salary. Look at the different amount of work you have to do at each rate, and see for yourself the cost of doing business.
Remember that you are the provider. It’s not going to get much cheaper than your expenses unless you live a very lavish lifestyle. Why does everything cost so much? Because at the end of the day, people and their families have to eat. So don’t be shy about applying that to your business, asking questions, pushing up your rates when appropriate, and be confident about the skill you’re selling. Hopefully seeing $14.95 in print raises questions for you like it did for me. You’re a winner, earn like one.