Controlling Legal Fees: As the Clock Ticks Away

Traditionally, the most common fee charged by a lawyer was the hourly fee, which is an agreed amount for each hour of time a lawyer works on your matter. There are many inherent risks, however, with the hourly fee. It is difficult to choose lawyers based upon hourly fees without knowing how many hours the matter will take the lawyer. For example, an expensive, but experienced, lawyer may charge you less overall than a cheap, but inexperienced, lawyer. During your initial consultation with several lawyers, have them give you a best estimate of the total legal fees it will take. This will not be legally binding on the lawyer like a fixed fee, although it may have some moral force, and it will give you a better basis to compare costs among lawyers, other than just rates.

Hourly fees do not usually take into account the differing type of work involved, such as courtroom versus library work.  Ensure that the right individuals, such as paralegals, do the right work, such as routine paperwork, and that a different hourly rate be used for each. You might even try getting a different hourly rate from the same individual for differing work, using the above example of courtroom versus library work. Using the above rationale try to get a lower blended rate for all work as an alternative to differing rates.

Hourly fees may only be part of the legal costs you pay.  Many law firms charge for normal overhead items separately, such as photocopying, long distance telephone calls, and sometimes even secretary charges. You may even end up paying for the accounting and billing efforts for these costs.  When you negotiate an hourly fee with an attorney, attempt to get an hourly fee that includes all overhead charges. This is actually easier for both of you, and more lawyers agree to this now.

Fixed fees, if you can get them, are preferable to hourly fees in many particulars. Most importantly, you know the total cost of your legal matter in advance. Now, you can shop this cost around to several lawyers to get the lowest cost. Be sure in this regard that there are no significant legal work exclusions from the fee, or if there are, that they are consistent among lawyers for comparison purposes. You can see my present fixed fee schedule here.

There is a distinct financial incentive for lawyers to spend more hours on an hourly fee matter than a fixed fee matter. This lawyer has worked in law firms and knows the pressure to bill in order to become partner, or even to stay with a firm as an associate. The cost of the legal matter invariably exceeds the expectations of the client. Attempt to get a fixed fee, if at all possible.

Beware, however, of a fixed fee that is substantially lower than other fixed fees quoted. This could be an error in estimation of the time, talent and effort involved in a legal matter. This lawyer may not adequately support your matter with the attendant negative result. If you hire such lawyer, be sure he or she adequately explains beforehand why the fee is so much lower than others.

Notice: The purpose of this article is to provide information, rather than advice or opinion. It is accurate to the best of my knowledge as of the date of the article. I have no duty to update this article. The information, examples and suggestions presented in this article have been developed from sources believed to be reliable. This article should not be viewed as a substitute for the guidance and recommendations of a retained professional and should not be construed as legal or other professional advice. In addition, I do not endorse any actions addressed herein, unless they are produced or created by me.  I recommend consultation with me or other competent legal counsel and/or other professional advisors before applying this material to any particular factual situations.





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Who We Are:

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The present firm arose from Bruce's move from the Los Angeles area to Dana Point, where he and his wife wanted to live since they first  discovered it. 

Bruce comes from the Senior Counsel position in a large world class international technology, engineering and construction corporation with thousands of employees, hundreds of large clients, world class projects, hundreds of affiliates, and complex transactions and litigation.  Before that, he gained significant major law firm experience, including arguments before state appellate and supreme courts.

His desire in moving to Dana Point was and still is to bring his world class experience to smaller and emerging businesses in the area.  This experience produces more valuable legal and business judgment from him than is available from newer attorneys or attorneys whose practices are more specialized and localized.  His extensive Resume is here Résumé.

Marlene wears all hats other than "Lawyer" in the firm,  including Paralegal, Marketing, Accounting, and Office Management and Assistance. Her extensive Resume is here Résumé.