The new trend in setting fees among Family Law practitioners is Fixed Fee Billing. Under this billing system, clients are quoted a single, flat fee rate for their complete case. After all, if Criminal Lawyers can set a flat fee, why can’t Family Lawyers do it, too?
Many Family Lawyers shy away from setting a Flat Fee from the start, because they aren’t sure how long the case will last, or how much opposition the other party might provide, how long or difficult the evidence discovery period might be, or if the case might end at all. Many different factors can prolong Family Law cases, caused both by the opposing party and the legal system. Very rarely (if ever), do I meet a Family Lawyer who favors fixed fees, and if they do, they only apply them to uncontested cases, such as a Mutual Agreement divorce, or a voluntarily submitted case, such as an adoption.
Many clients are wary of hiring legal counsel because they don’t know how much the case will cost in the long run. Sometimes, not even the lawyer answers that from the start, stating the all-too-common “I have no way of knowing that, nor will I ever.” Perhaps there is no certain way to know how much a complex case will cost to investigate, prepare and litigate in the long run, but for most cases, experience should provide a rough estimate of how much the case might cost, and approximately how long it would take.
I strongly favor fixed fee billing, and so does the Puerto Rico Supreme Court. Time and time again, the same words have been re-written in many decisions: “Attorneys should refrain from billing through contingency fees, and should only do so exceptionally when the client cannot absolute pay for their case.” I’ve research extensively on this new billing method, and according to what I have found, fixed fee billing does have certain advantages, such as:
- No longer having to track every minute of every day will mean that the attorney is no longer a slave to the billable hour.’ For most attorneys, tracking time is a stressful, cumbersome, and tedious process.’ It is inconvenient and counterproductive to have to continuously stop working on clients’ cases to record what time was spent on each one, and then to track and review the recorded time at the end of each day or week.
- The attorney will gain several extra hours per week that used to be spent recording time, and this newly found time can be spent working on clients’ files, spending time with family, or relaxing – all of which are better than chasing the tail of the billable hour.
- Even more time will be saved by not having to send out as many bills per month, record and process the payments, and deal with the trust accounting issues that are involved with retainers.
- There should be no disputes with clients over the amount of a bill and/or no questions to be answered about the amount of time that was spent on a given activity, because the amount charged for the services was negotiated and agreed upon before the representation began.
- Handling cases in this manner gives the attorney the ability to decide up front if he/she wishes to represent someone for a reduced fee, such as military personnel, teachers, or other public servants.
- There are other benefits to the attorney, such as the additional leverage gained when establishing fees in this manner and the ability to deposit these fees directly into the attorney’s operating account if the fee agreement is drafted properly.
Source is The South Carolina Family Law Blog.
I believe that it is time to introduce this “new” method of billing to our clients in Puerto Rico. For the past few months, I have consulted my collleagues with adopting this billing method, but most of them have resisted to do so. Perhaps they have not read enough on the topic, or perhaps they are afraid to over or under-bill their clients, on the other hand, I believe that a client always benefits from knowing exactly how much their case will cost, and thus provide them with a certainty of what is needed to complete their legal matter.