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Flat fees in Domestic Relations

Dear Sam and Group,
I practice in Cleveland, Ohio and primarily focus on domestic relations
matters and criminal law cases. Having practiced for more than 30 years, I
have read the literature on flat fee billing and value billing in divorce
cases and have tried to implement flat fee billing at one time or another.
Due to the pitfalls in divorce cases, it is not prudent to utilize flat fee
billing in divorce cases unless, 1) The case involves a shot term marriage
with no children or 2) You have a very sophisticated client. Sophisticated
means your client has been to the alter more than one time. In Ohio, if your
client is seeking for her/his spouse to contribute fees, there is a
requirement to present testimony setting out several factors, the most
important of those factors being time allocated and hourly fee charged.

Unlike divorce or other domestic relations cases, all my criminal cases are
charged flat fee. Depending on the client, I might have to set up tiers,
i.e. plea versus trial, although my preference is to use a single flat fee.
In the courts I practice in, criminal cases move much quicker and have less
pitfalls. You get burned once in a while but overall it works for me.

Thank you,
Elliott I. Resnick

Comments

  • I think we need to make a distinction between using flat fees (the same fee
    -or in some cases, percentage-is charged on every case) and using fixed fees
    (the fee is fixed, but for that client only, based on their specific
    circumstances). Not every case is one size fits all, and not every fee
    should be either.

    There is no question that coming up with fixed or flat fee billing
    arrangements takes work and will involve some trial and error, but it is
    certainly do-able, even for more 'complicated' or contested matters. I have
    worked with a number of clients to create these kinds of fee structures. You
    can bill in stages and use change orders or supplemental services agreements
    if the parameters change or unanticipated circumstances arise - but that
    requires that you have a very clear fee agreement and scope of work set out
    with the client up front.

    As Sam points out, when the client knows in advance what they are going to
    pay, it is much less likely that you are going to end up in a fee dispute
    situation. Many lawyers who bill on an hourly basis cut their fees or write
    off work if a client complains (and sometimes even if the client doesn't).
    There's no reason why you couldn't adjust or refund some fees to a client if
    a dispute arises to head off a fee dispute arbitration.

    As Sam also says in his posts, even without tracking your time, there are
    certainly ways to justify your fees. Time is only one factor that is
    considered when determining reasonableness of fees. You will still have your
    work product, including notes, emails, records of telephone calls, documents
    prepared, calendar entries regarding meetings with clients, etc. that will
    all serve to prove the work that you did on a particular client's case.

    There's so much to be said on this topic that it's difficult to discuss via
    email, but feel free to look at any of these articles (or any of my other
    posts in the Legal
    <http://legalease.blogs.com/leg.....d_billing/>  Fees
    and Billing category on my blog for more information:

    Suddenly
    <http://legalease.blogs.com/legal_ease_blog/2009/10/suddenly-solo-an-o...
    nity-to-introduce-fixed-fees.html>  Solo? An opportunity to introduce fixed
    fees

    Suddenly
    <http://legalease.blogs.com/legal_ease_blog/2009/10/suddenly-solo-an-o...
    nity-to-introduce-fixed-fees-part-ii.html>  Solo? An opportunity to
    introduce fixed fees Part II

    Can
    <http://legalease.blogs.com/leg.....onial.html>
    Matrimonial Lawyers In New York Use Alternative Billing and Fixed Fees?

    Allison

    Allison C. Shields, Esq.

    Alli...@LegalEaseConsulting.com
    631-642-0221
    http://www.LawyerMeltdown.com
    http://www.LegalEaseConsulting.com (blog)
  • samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
    Good distinction. Flat fees work well for cases where the effort is predictable. Bankruptcy, for example, or my debt collection defense cases. With more variable cases, you can still come up with a fixed fee; it just may not match the next divorce, employment discrimination defense, etc., that comes across your desk.
  • I only do flat/fixed fees for estate planning work.  I also offer a variety
    of flat fees (or fixed fees) for family law cases - but there is usually
    some sort of agreement in place or the work has a limited scope.  I do think
    about the possibility of fixed fees for a wider variety of family law cases
    - and maybe one day I will offer that option.  But with family law cases - *
    somebody* is usually crazy/overly
    emotional/co-dependent/addictive/obsessive/bi-polar/difficult whether it is
    my client, the opposing part, or opposing counsel (or maybe I'm the crazy
    one).  You don't always know which one is going to be the problem factor
    until it is a problem.

    With the uncontested matters that I already offer flat fees on, in figuring
    out the fee part of it was thinking about how much work is involved in an
    average case like that - some cases are much easier, some take more time and
    effort - but there's not a drastic difference.  If I were to figure out flat
    fees on contested matters - there are *so* many different and unknown
    factors - the case could be quick and easy and leave me with a warm and
    fuzzy feeling, or the case could last for years and leave me sitting in the
    dark on the basement floor pulling my hair out.  And when quoting fees I am
    likely to err on the side of caution and prepare for the worst case
    scenario.

    --
    Jennifer R. Lewis Kannegieter
    Attorney at Law

    Providing prompt, professional, personal service in the areas of family law,
    estate planning, and probate.

    P.O. Box 718
    Monticello, MN 55362-0718
    (763) 392-1518

    jenni...@lewis-k-law.com
    http://www.lewis-k-law.com
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