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Secrets about Attorneys' Fees

No one likes that feeling of being unaware of what they are really paying. However, we are mostly raised to be "polite" and not violate the social barrier of asking a vendor right up front, "how much will this cost me?" Maybe there is fear there of creating the perception, or getting the reply, that "if you have to ask you can't afford my services!"

I believe in the "taxicab" rule: don't get in for the ride until you know the fare! It is not impolite to ask! Hiring a lawyer is a major commitment. All parties to the agreement have to be satisfied and on the same roadway from the start "of the ride." Sometimes cases can span many months. At the end, your important interests are going to be decided based on how talented (s)he is who does the job. Pick a lawyer who is receptive to your questions early and often. Fees have a place in the formula but don't let them obscure the real issues.

Lawyer's fees present several conundrum, like:

»  I want it for cheap, but if (s)he's sooo cheap; how good could (s)he be? Price is only a single factor in picking legal counsel. In over 30 years of practice, I've seen that a client who selects a lawyer based on the fee may be forgetting that it is much more important to take the time to see if the lawyer has the knowledge, desire and sensitivity to the people and issues to take on the matter. The attorney whose prices are lower must know what those services are worth!

The same thing goes for lawyers who need to offer to pay all of the clients' costs in order to get your case. Financing a client's case doesn't guarantee a lawyer with skill, tenacity and integrity. It may be an indicator that the lawyer in question has to make up for some deficit. A lawyer who comes on a good recommendation or can stand on his or her reputation doesn't have to market himself or herself by being a banker too.

»  The"what if" myth and the real conflict of interest. A lawyer or law firm may offer a fee which varies as follows: if settled the attorney's fee is x %, but if filed x+5%, but if arbitrated: x+10% but if tried x+15%. Shy away from the lawyer that offers a contingent fee but has a variety of conditions which (s)he controls determining the fee. It is often up to the lawyer whether the case settles without filing suit, going to arbitration or going to trial. If counsel controls the variables, the fee arrangement may simply be a "shell game."

» How big is my piece of the pieā€¦and while you're at it: how big is this pie? No matter what the fee is, it's meaningless unless the result is maximized. A client's analysis of what the net recovery will be is better focused on the skill of the lawyer than the amount of the fee. The greater the skill in prosecuting the action under a contingent, hourly or hybrid fee arrangement, the greater the opportunity for maximized results. If plaintiff's counsel's fee is a smaller contingency but the recovery is a smaller result, the net recovery still may be smaller than if the fee is a larger percentage of a larger gross result.

» Ask the fee question early, but weigh your decision to hire a lawyer heavily on your perception of the degree of integrity, understanding and skill that your lawyer brings to your case.

Long after the fees are paid,you will be living with the case results. You'll want to be sure your lawyer's work brought your case to the best conclusion, in light of all the facts and the law.


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