Ways attorneys charge for their services
Attorneys charge for their services in a number of ways: by the hour, by the service, on a contingency basis, by percentage fees, or some sort of mixture. I mostly do “by the service” (that is, flat fees). There are a number of reasons for this. First, billing by the hour doesn’t work for me. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work at all, just that it’s not a good fit for my personality. A large portion of my life has been about completing high-quality work in as quick of a fashion as possible. I enjoy free time, and being efficient in my work gives me more opportunities to do things that I really like. If you’re afraid this means that I won’t pay very close attention to your legal matter, don’t be. My track record (valedictorian of Mishawaka High School, valedictorian of Bethel College, top 5% of my class at Notre Dame Law School) demonstrates that even though I work quickly, I work well.
There’s nothing wrong with hourly billing
Please don’t misunderstand me: there is nothing wrong with attorneys that bill by the hour. I have known and do know plenty of exceptional lawyers that almost exclusively employ hourly billing. As I already stated, it simply doesn’t work for me, while flat fees do. And I think you’ll find that being charged flat fees will work pretty well for you, too. Flat fees let you know upfront what a legal solution will cost you. That’s what you are really interested in and what you are really purchasing from me: a legal solution. You don’t care whether it takes me 1 hour or 100 hours. If the legal solution that I can provide you with is worth the quote I give you, then you’ll hire me. That’s how you do it with other service providers. Your dentist tells you, “I can fix that pain in your tooth for $2,000.” You think, “Can I live with the pain?” If the answer is no, you pay your dentist the money. Why should it be any different when you talk with me?
Let me absorb the risk, not you
Flat fees also mean you don’t absorb the risk for things that are out of your control. Perhaps you hire me to help you with a divorce. If the attorney for your spouse makes life difficult for me—say, by only providing me with print copies of a proposed divorce settlement instead of electronic copies—you still pay the same price. With hourly billing, you’d pay more because it would take me longer to make changes to the printed copy. How is that fair to you? I don’t know exactly how many hours your divorce is going to take me—just like you don’t—but I certainly have a better idea than you do. I should be the one absorbing the risk for unforeseen circumstances, not you.
An example of how bad things can be
I’ll leave you with an actual timesheet from an attorney that was submitted to a court as evidence of attorney fees. Again, please know that I’m not harping on lawyers who bill by the hour. There are great and fair attorneys who keep track of their time in six-minute increments. But please also know that you’ll never see anything like the following from me…