By: Raad Ahmed
Just as there are many ways to win a case, there are many ways to charge for it. Depending on the situation, the client, and the attorney, there may be several ways to keep legal fees down. Here are some of the best ones. It might seem that reducing legal fees wouldn’t usually be an attorney’s top priority, but there are times when it’s very much in a lawyer’s interest to keep costs low. For example: Let’s say an attorney takes on a client who can pay a certain amount, but no more. If that client is later surprised when the fees add up, and refuses to pay, the lawyer will eventually file a fee suit—an outcome no one wants. But often, clients will react to a fee suit by countersuing for malpractice—an outcome an attorney definitely doesn’t want. So, looking down the road to this (reasonably likely) outcome, it is clear that it is often best to keep fees down for clients who can only afford to pay a certain amount.
The attorney should be upfront from the start, and work hard to come up with a fee structure that makes sense for the client and the case at hand. It’s best to offer to negotiate before the case begins. There are fee structures that can keep costs down; the tradeoff is, of course, that placing limits on the lawyer’s duties can result in less thorough representation.
Signing a fee agreement will do much to keep costs under control. Fee agreements let clients know what they will be charged for, and how much they’ll be charged for it. It’s in your interest as an attorney to make sure the client has a thorough understanding of the entire agreement. If there are no unexpected charges, fee litigation is much less likely.
On this topic: It’s best to avoid surprises in any way you can. One positive step is to keep the client in the loop by billing on a monthly basis—not all at once. If your goal is to keep costs under control and avoid disputes over legal fees, it won’t help to ambush the client with a single, gargantuan bill after the case is resolved.
Similarly, it’s a good idea to present detailed billing statements. Say exactly how your time and resources are being spent. This can open up a conversation about which charges could be limited or eliminated.
A flat fee, or fixed fee, is a cost-limiting option that often appeals to clients. In flat-fee agreements, attorneys outline exactly what they will do (and what they won’t do) in exchange for a specified amount of money: no more, no less. The benefit to the client is obvious; the benefit to the attorney comes in the form of time and efficiency. Legal duties are limited in scope and there are a finite number of loose ends to be considered.
Note that a flat fee is not the same as a capped fee. Capped fees are generally unfavorable to lawyers. If there’s still work to be done after the fee cap is reached, the attorney can end up working for free.
Clients and attorneys should always take care to choose a fee structure that works for both parties, agree on everything (in writing) at the outset of the case, and maintain open communication concerning legal costs. That way, the charges will stay under control, the client will be happier, and the attorney will be that much more likely to be paid in full. #LegalCost