Why is it that most family law attorneys handle cases on an hourly basis? Did they consider and evaluate the many different billing options that are available and then conclude that this was the best one? I doubt it. I believe that the reason that attorneys use that archaic method is simply because that was the way they were taught or the way it has always been done at their firms.
When presented with the possibility of handling cases on a fixed fee basis, most attorneys say that domestic cases are too unpredictable to enable them to establish a fee with any confidence. However, I believe that is a cop out answer. The fact is that insurance actuaries establish premiums for things such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and even death – all of which are certainly more difficult to predict than Family Court cases. If they can do it with some level of precision, why can’t attorneys? The answer is that we can and we should.
Attorneys benefit in the following ways from handling family law cases on a fixed fee basis:
- 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.