To me, the hourly rate is a prime source of the negative impression that the public has of lawyers. I would hate the hourly rate if I were a client. In 2013 I chucked the hourly rate and changed my billing structure to reflect how I would want to be treated if I needed a divorce lawyer.
Here’s why a flat fee structure is better for clients involved in a domestic dispute:
- Flat Fees Provide Certainty and Reduce Stress
“What’s this going to cost me?” The traditional response from a lawyer is to quote an hourly rate and to demand a retainer which will cover only the first few hours of work. That’s not very helpful. That gives you zero idea of what your total cost will be. This uncertainty adds stress to an already stressful situation.
A flat fee structure, on the other hand, provides a fixed price for a job to be done. Once the price is set it will not change. Focus can then shift from the cost of solving the problem to the problem itself.
- Flat Fees Enhance Trust between Client and Counsel
When operating on an hourly basis, it’s rational for clients to be concerned about efficiency and delay. Was that adjournment really necessary? Do I really need to meet at the office for another strategy session? Why did nothing seem to get accomplished at the last court appearance? This suspicion is a natural consequence of being billed on the clock and it severely undermines client satisfaction, even when dealing with the most efficient and conscientious of lawyers.
The flat fee client will suffer none of this doubt. The lawyer has no incentive to waste time, and the client can be sure that steps recommended by the lawyer are required to obtain a satisfactory result and for no other reason. This enhances trust and provides peace of mind – isn’t that what a professional is supposed to do?
- Flat Fees Put the Client in Control
Too many separated people feel like helpless passengers in the divorce process. The hourly rate enhances this helplessness because key decisions must often be made in a vacuum. How can a client be expected to properly analyze a settlement proposal when the cost of turning it down is unclear? Unknown future legal bills are a source of pressure that can cause a client to accept a deal that’s less than fair. The threat of unknown legal fees can be used by one party to intimidate the other.
A client who knows the cost of their case, however, will be free to look at proposals and offers on their merits. No bullying can occur. No fear of unknown future expenses will influence a decision. The client will decide for the right reasons, not because of the operation of the hourly rate.
Certainty, trust and control. If you’d like those words to be part of your relationship with your divorce lawyer, then flat fees are for you.