Attorney Fees-How to Stay Out of Conflict With Your Attorney
Attorney fees are expensive.
Let’s face it. Every client I have ever known has had to “stretch” to pay their fees.
I get it. You may have never had a lawyer.
You did not plan, let alone budget for a divorce, dissolution or custody battle. So what do you do?
Educate, prepare, and execute your plan.
That way you and your attorney will be on the same page when you need him most-the TRIAL.
For it is tough enough to battle the other side in a lawsuit. You don’t want to be battling your attorney.
For both the client and the attorney, fees are always a primary concern.
The majority of family law clients have rarely if ever, had to employ legal representation before. As such, they often have very little knowledge of attorney fees, nor the value or methodology attached to them.
Often, this leads to conflicts between clients and attorneys. Clients are surprised by the fees they owe, and they refuse to pay or make it a point of contention with their representation.
Most of the time, this occurs at a pivotal point in the client’s case – either when the final hearing or final trial is in the works. This is when a client needs their attorney the most, and it’s when both parties should be working together cohesively toward the same goal.
To get more specific, here is what I see in 90 percent of all attorney-client conflicts: The client’s case goes on for six or seven months, operating on the initial retainer of $3,000 to $10,000 that was already paid upfront.
As the case goes on, the attorney must ask for additional retainers to cover the costs of the case. Unfortunately, clients often see this as an attorney “spinning their wheels.” As the case has still not been resolved, they feel they are out huge chunks of money with very little to show with it.
Once the trial approaches, the attorney needs to ramp up to ensure the case is ready for the courtroom. They need additional funds to cover exhibits, witness interviews, direct- and cross-examination preparations and much, much more.
These extra fees can often leave clients feeling taken advantage of, or worse, thinking they should just settle out of court to save themselves the extra cash.
This, coupled with the already overwhelming amount of stress that comes with a lawsuit, can be enough to make any client frustrated and unhappy. Sadly, this all could have been avoided had there only been a clear-cut, well-communicated fee structure right from the very beginning.
How My Fees are Different
I don’t want my clients to go through these stages of frustration and anger, and I want them to know they’re getting honest, trustworthy services from the very start. To allow for this, I’ve developed a unique and customized fee plan that works for every client I work with.
Here’s what it looks like:
The Interview – First, we consult with the potential client over the phone. This consultation is our chance to get to know the details of their case – the length of the marriage, the assets involved, the child custody concerns and any other pertinent details.
The attorney will then determine if they can meet the client’s needs and goals and if so, we’ll schedule a face-to-face meeting to move forward.
The Case Analysis and Plan – Next, the client will come to our offices to meet the attorney face to face. We will conduct an in-depth interview, gathering all the details we can about the case – any assets, liabilities, property issues, children involved and more.
Then, we will hammer out the client’s overall goals and needs. At the end of this meeting, the attorney will offer the client a detailed plan of action, complete with the next steps and a set structure for all attorney fees that will be expected. I do charge for legal advice and plan.
The fees will come in three options:
Two or Three Payments – This is a new method we’ve recently started using that offers clients a simple, two or three-payment plan. We look at the average amount of hours/costs our recent cases took, and we use that information to determine, roughly, how much work a new client’s case will require. We then break that amount up into two or three distinct payments, telling the client the exact amount and due date for each one. This is very advantageous as it provides clients with a specific total that they can save and budget for, and when the big stressor arrives-the trial, the attorney fees have already be taken care of from both the attorney and client perspective.
Flat Fee – Finally, we also offer a flat fee option, which requires a one-time, lump-sum payment from the client upfront. When this option is chosen, the client no longer has to worry about making payments or receiving bills, and the attorney doesn’t have to track hours or minutes of work. It can be very convenient for both parties. The only downside? It requires a significant chunk of change at the beginning of the working relationship.
Billable Hours – This is the traditional model that most family law attorneys utilize, allowing the attorney to charge clients for every task and line item that is completed on their behalf. That means every time an attorney responds to an email, makes a phone call, prepares briefs, goes to court or performs a task of any side, the client will be charged for it. This is often frustrating for the client, as it can be hard to predict how much the bill will be at any given point. The total amount can also vary greatly, depending on how long it takes the attorney to complete the case from start to finish. Remember the good and bad about this type of fee arrangement. The good is you only pay when the attorney is working on the case; the bad-you do not know how much the total cost will be.
No matter which payment method you choose, the important thing is that you know your options from the very beginning. When it comes to fees, you want to be on the same page with your attorney from day one, as you’ll be working together for many months, or in some cases, even years. Conflicts overpayment and bills can get in the way, hurting your case and, ultimately, your chances of winning.
One of the most popular choices is a flat-fee up front, payable in 2-3 payments. This kind of structure has traditionally been only available in criminal cases, but now you can enjoy the same benefits in your family law case.
Read more about in our article, The Revolutionary Simplicity of Flat-Fees in Family Law.
The above attorney fee calculations are ESTIMATES only. These estimates are based on real-life cases completed over the past 20 years. You will need to meet with the attorney to figure out exactly what the attorney fee option is best for you. Remember these are only estimates.