Billing by the hour has traditionally been the only way lawyers deal with their clients, but, like many other aspects of the legal profession, this practice is becoming less and less common. People who need legal help today aren’t just clients – they are also customers. They see their relationship with a lawyer not just as something that can assist them with legal issues, but a service they are purchasing which must provide value. Lawyers – especially those in solo practice – can benefit from offering billing arrangements that make their services more appealing to a wider range of client.
Flat Fee Services
Flat Fees are one fee charged for a specifically defined service, regardless of the hours or effort involved. These fees work best with certain types of service – bankruptcy filing, or estate planning, for example.
Often seen in personal injury cases, this type of arrangement can be useful for many types of cases. Because contingency fees can have a lot of variables, it is imperative that the agreement is well laid-out and all parties understand and agree on the various possible outcomes.
Some cases can be broken down into component services, with each task having a fixed fee. This can allow clients to budget for how extensive they want the arrangement to be.
Blended Hourly Rate
Instead of hourly rates based on the individual doing the work, charge one hourly fee regardless of if it’s a partner, associate, or paralegal doing the work.
Total Not To Exceed
This is a structure that is often used in construction or building projects – an hourly or service-based fee is agreed upon, with an upper limit that cannot be exceeded, regardless of outcome.
There are also many combinations of various fees – Flat Fee plus Success, Hourly plus Success, Blended with Task-Based, etc.
One final thing to keep in mind: Being flexible for clients is only useful if you have the administrative structure to support it. Don’t have so many fee choices that you can’t keep track of them, or that your rate schedule just becomes confusing. Every fee or billing strategy has its own needs, and you must be realistic about what your practice can provide. Pay attention to what your clients ask for, pay attention to how much time you (or your staff) are able to devote to the administration of your practice, and structure your policies around that.