For years, legal journals and trade magazines have been announcing the death of the billable hour as the measure of a lawyer’s compensation. One good point that has been made regarding the hourly rate billing formula: it is a system that potentially places what is in a lawyer’s best interest against what is in a client’s best interest.
I have heard lawyers say occasionally that they are sorry to see a case settle because of “all the money that case could have made me.” When retained to represent a client against a legal team known to be contentious by nature, even the most-conscientious lawyer can’t help but recognize all the money to be made from pitch battle litigation.
Valuing services by offering only to be paid hourly for the uncertain amount of time that we believe it will take to get the job done requires our client to basically hand over his or her checkbook. And without any predictability as to when and how the meter will stop running, we only add to the uncertainty and anxiety that the client already feels.
The fact is that in many family law cases, an experienced family lawyer can fairly estimate the cost of service for their clients. That’s why we offer, in certain matters, fixed fee billing arrangements.
Here’s how it works: At the initial consultation, we discuss in some detail the facts of and issues involved in your case. We introduce you to the Peaceful Divorce Model and explain how it can benefit you and your family. We discuss what efforts will likely have to be undertaken before we would be prepared to proceed to mediation with an eye towards achieving a global resolution of your case.
If you elect to learn more about our Fixed Fee Engagements, then following our meeting, we prepare and present to you a proposed Scope of Work that details what services we will be providing and the fee we will charge for those services. In addition, we will tell you what your fee won’t cover, and how additional services will be handled. Each proposal is tailored to your case. Our fee is based upon what we know, by experience, is most likely going to be required of us to get your case to mediation and how long each function should take. No doubt there is an element of risk on our part: certain things can take longer than we anticipate, but it’s our job to make sure that things proceed as we have agreed.
What if the other side decides that it will try everything it can to derail us in our quest for a peaceful resolution? It doesn’t matter. Why? Because we will still be doing what we said we were going to do anyway, with one difference. To the extent further action beyond the Scope of Work, such as litigation, is necessitated by the actions of someone other than the Firm, our fee agreement allows us to engage in the extra work on an hourly rate basis or based upon an agreed fee schedule.
The important thing about a Fixed Fee Engagement is that we will have a plan and will do everything that we can to see that the plan is properly executed. And if you’re smart, you’ll encourage your spouse to find an attorney who is willing to enter into the same type of arrangement or at least who won’t be working at cross-purposes with our plan.
Our hope is that one day, all family matters will be handled on a fixed fee-for-service basis. That way, family law clients will know that their attorneys do not have a financial stake in continuing family discord and will focus instead on bringing family conflict to a peaceful resolution for a fee that fairly and reasonably compensates them.