What Is A “Flat Fee” And Why Don’t Lawyers Use Them Very Much?

In my experience, clients just love “flat fees.” They regularly ask me about them. Well, “flat fees” may be okay for many times of legal issues but, for litigators like me, they are a problem. Unlike a house painter, I can’t see the house before giving a quote. (Assuming, as I do, that a house painter would give a higher quote for a mansion than, say, a small, one-bedroom house. Another example, if Bill Gates walked in and said “I need a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filed” you would not do well charging him the same fee as a standard no-asset Chapter 7.)

So, in any given case, I cannot know what a fair rate is until I know how much work is involved in the matter until I’ve had some time to investigate it and, with luck, learn who the opposing lawyer will be. How complicated the issue, how contentious litigation will be, how many documents will be involved, how often I will have to go to court to fight for documents with a Motion to Compel, how often I will have to go to Court to resist completely inappropriate demands for documents, etc. Without answers to these (and many other) questions, any sort of fixed fee is completely impossible–it will be either unfair to the client or unfair to me.

My solution is actually simple: I call it the “Task Order” approach. Using this approach, I do an investigation first of all (for a fixed fee). Once that is completed I have a better idea of who complicated and contentious the case will be. If I don’t do that, I risk either over-charging my client or losing money on the deal. Once the investigation is completed, the client and I meet and discuss my findings. Generally I will then give the client a 29-step, 5 phase outline of what takes place in litigation. Based on this outline, my investigation, and other expertise, the client and I reach agreement on the next step in the case and what I will charge for that next step only. By doing this, the client knows and approves each step and knows and approves the cost of each step. Best of all, the client a) can budget for the case, b) stays informed and involved, and c)knows that the cash register doesn’t start running whenever they ask a question. My bottom line is that Task Order Billing makes happy clients.

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