Let’s be honest, you don’t want to pay more in legal fees than you have to pay, but you want competent legal advice and help. Attorneys structure fees in three different ways, primarily:
- Hourly – The law firm bills on an hourly basis for the professionals involved. This has the advantage of only paying for time spent, but the disadvantage of not knowing how much time will be spent, in advance. Sometimes this can cause conflict as there may be expectations regarding the bill that are not met.
- Flat Fee – The law firm sets out a particular scope of work and collects a flat fee for the work. This has the advantage of giving a hard number in terms of cost for the work. The disadvantage is that the scope may be inflexible, and if other matters pop up that need attention, then additional fees will be incurred.
- Contingency – This is where the attorney only collects based on value provided, generally in the form of payment from the other side. This has the advantage of requiring little to no up-front investment from the client, but the disadvantage is that only a few kinds of representation are suitable for this. Generally personal injury/property damage situations, or large estate battles are the kinds of cases that firms will accept for this kind of fee structure.
Make sure you know how your case will be billed, and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand. It is important to point note: attorneys generally are paid to be involved in the process, and NOT to provide a result (except in the case of contingency fees).
“Just talking” about a situation is seeking counsel from the attorney and is taking time away from other legal matters that they could also be billing for, so be prepared to pay in order to talk about things. Be careful not to eat away at your own legal budget through repetitive or emotional conversations that don’t actual lead to counsel or decisions being made, if you can help it. Sometimes it is the nature of legal matters to be stressful and it is understandably emotional.
If you are paying a professional for their advice, then there are generally three inflection points for interaction. If you keep these in mind, it can help to keep your interactions efficient, while receiving good counsel and legal help.
- Information Gathering – The attorney will need all the information, documents, legal purposes, and externalities in order to consider, conduct research, perhaps draft documents or court papers, and then provide counsel/representation. In this stage it is critical to be honest with your attorney so that they can give you the best advice. It is also most efficient to be diligent and responsive. Failing to provide documents or information for a month, and then being frustrated later at the pace of the matter is a self-inflicted issue that can be somewhat resolved at this stage.
- Research/Drafting/Representation – Whether going to court or negotiating a deal, the attorney will most likely need to conduct research, speak with other parties/individuals on your behalf, and draft or review documents. At this stage, responsiveness is critical, as the attorney may have a specific and nuanced question or set of questions that come up as they dig into the details of the situation.
- Counsel/Follow-Up Issues – Once representation is underway, the attorney will eventually circle back with the client to provide their assessment of the situation, whether it is a strategy or list of options for proceeding with a lawsuit, or comments and red-lines on a set of contracts. At this stage it is important to make sure you understand the counsel being given. Don’t merely say, “Whatever you think,” as there may be other decisions later on that build on decisions near the beginning of representation. Sometimes attorneys can get bogged down in legalese, so don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t understand that word, or legal term.” It’s up to the attorney to make sure you can understand so that you can then tell the attorney how you would like to proceed, but without feedback, that won’t happen.
As a case or negotiation proceeds you will go through the loop above multiple times. Over time, your relationship with your attorney should develop into one of camaraderie and collaboration. Your attorney has your best interest in mind, and if you don’t believe that they do, you should seek other counsel, as trust is the bedrock of a good attorney-client relationship. If you end up needing an attorney on a regular basis, then having a good attorney by your side that you can proactively strategize with should save you money in the long run.