I’d rather be able to set aside time for a meaningful conversation with a prospective client than follow the herd.
I believe that an initial consultation in the office is every bit as important to prepare for as a court appearance with a client. So, I charge $150 for an initial consultation even though that runs against the grain of free consultations offered by so many other lawyers these days. I’d rather be able to set aside time for a meaningful conversation with a prospective client than follow the herd.
Except in those rare circumstances where a face-to-face meeting is impossible, I do not discuss fees until the initial consultation, when I have a better understanding of the client’s problems, goals and expectations. I will tell you right up front that I am not the cheapest lawyer in town, nor do I endeavor to be. There have always been other lawyers who “handle” cases for less, and this has never persuaded me to compromise the quality of services I provide or change the way I value my time.
When I agree to take on a case, I commonly charge by the hour, but I will also set fixed fees in certain matters.
Hourly billing is the fairest method by which a lawyer can charge a client. To begin representation, you bring me a deposit (often erroneously referred to as a “retainer”) to cover a certain number of hours of work, depending on the nature of the case. I place your deposit into my Trust Account, where it remains your money until I have earned it. I bill you each month for the work I perform on your case. You can pay your bill directly and leave your deposit untouched, or I can draw down the money from your deposit, provided you agree to replenish your deposit if it is depleted.
With hourly billing, you pay me for my time spent working on your case, nothing more and nothing less. And because my time must be tracked in order to bill you, hourly billing also holds me accountable by providing you with a detailed record of exactly what I have done on the case.
The disadvantage of hourly billing, from the client’s perspective, is the uncertainty of the total cost of representation. For this reason, many clients like a fixed fee. A fixed fee involves some risk for both lawyer and client. With a fixed fee, I assume the risk of being paid very little for all the work I have to do if the case spirals into a time-consuming mess. And the client risks paying more than they would by the hour if it turns out that I am able to solve the client’s problem with just a couple of phone calls.
Understanding these risks, I am open to charging a fixed fee on matters where the workload is fairly predictable. When I charge a fixed fee, it is primarily based on my hourly rate multiplied by the average amount of time I’ve spent working similar cases.