Have you ever heard the phrase “doctors make terrible patients”? The same goes for lawyers—sometimes they make for difficult clients (in any field, especially where contracts are concerned!)
Of course, you want clients to ask questions if they feel like something isn’t right or are confused, but sometimes lawyers can be a little pushy when it comes to being the client. If you aren’t a lawyer, but your client is, you might be tempted to follow their wishes. But what if you aren’t comfortable with that? What should you do if your client wants to alter the contract?
I received this question recently:
Hi there. I’m new to wedding photography, and I recently started booking my own weddings after second shooting all season. I sent my contract to my recent bride that booked and she said her Dad wanted to take a look at it. Ok. No problem. Well, her Dad is an attorney, and she said he had a few issues with it and would be in touch.
He emailed me today telling me that they adore my work, but there was language in the contract he wanted changed. He drew up an entire new contract, changed some of my stuff, and says he will not agree to the 35% retainer, but only a max of $750. He expects me to sign this new contract, but I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t want to lose this bride, but I also want to stand by what I feel are the right business practices for me. I have to get back to him by Monday. What would you do? Just sign his contract and accept everything on his terms?
The first question that you would need to ask yourself is who is my client? You can read more about this issue (which can get a bit complex) here, but basically whoever is the person signing the contract is your client. This doesn’t really change anything if the bride is your client, but will follow her dad’s lead here. However, it helps for you to know who the client is (legally) and, therefore, who you really need to be negotiating with.
The next consideration is what matters most to you? Are you more invested in sticking to the terms of the contract as they are or in keeping this client? How much you budge in these negotiations should be impacted by how much you want this client. If this is someone that could benefit your business just by having them as a client, you may want to be more open to appeasing them. However, if you are ok with not booking them, sticking to the terms of the original contract may be a wiser business decision in the end.
What contract terms are you willing to change? If you really want to book this bride, you may have to give on something to keep her. You need to look at his revisions and determine if there are changes that truly matter to you. It’s easy to let your feelings guide you when someone puts you in this position, but if you think about it calmly and logically, you may realize that some of his changes are not things that really matter to you. Try putting yourself in the position of the client and think about what you would want in your contract. Sometimes there are terms that we all put in our contracts (called boilerplate) that we are ok changing and really don’t impact our business. Carefully consider what the father of the bride is striking out, replacing, or adding. If it is just language that adds clarification, it may be worth going with to keep the client, but anything that could negatively impact your business (like your retainer), you should be very leery about changing. In considering which terms you are willing to give on, remember that this contract was drafted to protect your business and you always need to consider what the best practice for your business is. Sometimes that is being flexible to keep a client, and sometimes that is letting the client walk away.
Do you feel like a 35% retainer is a fair amount for your services? Are you comfortable with a smaller retainer? Attorneys typically require a sizeable retainer for their services and they shouldn’t be surprised that you do as well. The retainer serves to protect you if the client cancels on you or doesn’t pay when payment is due. This is an amount to cover your time that you could have booked with someone else. Consider what amount you are comfortable with if they cancel your services or do not pay. If you know that $750 is not enough for you, then explain to your bride and/or her dad why you require a 35% retainer. Also consider why he wants a smaller retainer. This may be a red flag to you. If someone wants to pay a smaller retainer, they may be booking you and still shopping around. You could potentially lose another client in the meantime. I would be extremely careful in considering accepting a smaller retainer.
Of course you never want to lose a client, but sometimes the ones that aren’t willing to accept reasonable terms are the ones that are going to be more hassle than they are worth. The bride (and her father) should understand that you need to protect your business. Explain that the terms of your contract follow industry standards and protect your small business. You are not obligated to accept any terms that the client wants, even if they are a lawyer. Be aware that if you choose to hold your ground, you may lose a client. But, some clients aren’t worth the hassle either!