Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Attorney fees: What is My Custody Case Going to Cost and How Do I Pay for It?

I get calls asking what will such and such case cost? Last week it was someone asking what was my fee for a joint custody case and regular custody case. Disregarding that legally there is not much difference between the two, the caller assumed that there was a generic price that covered all cases.

I do not have a prix fixe fee schedule. I like how Mississippi Family Law Mediation and Counseling Blog handles this issue in Before you hire an attorney --- What you need to know:

* What kind of fee can you expect to pay?

This is a very difficult question for the attorney to answer because during the early stages of a divorce case the attorney does not know how much time he will spend on the case.

You can find out the hourly charge for services and what kinds of litigation expenses you can expect to incur. Items such as fees for private investigators, appraisers, accountants and a variety of other specialists might be needed.
Fees depend on the facts of the custody case - whether as part of a divorce or as a modification. Generic fees mean that no variation exists between cases. Which then means that you are just the same as everyone else.

What you are getting with a custody case is custom work. Think tailor made and not off the rack, and you should see why the facts matter. About all I can do is give a range of fees and an explanation of why there is a range. I do have a list showing the range work that can go into a custody case and the associated fees posted here.

About paying for a custody case, I suggest reading Maryland Divorce Legal Crier's How To Pay for A Divorce Attorney. These things apply to a custody case, too. I would add to the list making installment payments but would not sub


Ed said...

While I can appreciate some of your points about flat rate vs. hourly billing, what really is WRONG with charging clients a fixed price? In family law, especially, it certainly is a growing trend nationwide, and I have been employing it successfully for some time in my practice. For example, see:

Perhaps my favorite anecdote advocating fixed/value pricing is here:

The law for profit blog has a very nice series of posts on the issue, one specific one is:

Without quoting too many non-Indiana sites, see:

What about clients (The retorts are priceless).

Chris Marston's blog

Wendy Hollingsworth:

Build a Solo Practice's article:
"Price Should Be The Value to Your Client – Not Your Cost to Provide"

And Howard Iken makes some good points

Just because you don't know EXACTLY what a case is going to cost going in, that doesn't mean you don't do construction work on a house.... Change orders were designed for just that purpose.

Personally, I've seen a marked increase in my income since switching to fixed rate billing. I think that the hourly rate has its place, but in this economic environment, it is no longer the only or even the best way to approach building and keeping a client base.

Sam Hasler said...

Maybe I was confusing in how I described what I do. I do not have a generic price for child custody cases.

Most of my work is actually flat rate- I guess I did not make that clear enough with the link to my service list - except for actual work (and that usually comes down to a flat fee in reality).

I do thank you for the links but I would also add

I have been watching the national discussion on flat fees versus hourly with some amusement. Locally, most of our cases have flat fees for decades. I have no explanation for this but it is so. I would say 99.9% of my practice is flat fees (see that list of services again). My only hourly rate case is at my client's request.

What clients - actually, the potential clients who are tire kicking and looking for price - do not understand is that many (and in my area, most) lawyers do not use an hourly rate. What I had hoped with this post is to explain that not only do I use flat fees but that there is no one fee for a custody case. The fee given is estimated based upon the facts given at the time of the meeting. Where the fee increases depending on the complexity of the facts. Also, the fee contract specifies that changes in the facts may change the total fee. Which approximates the change order mentioned in Ed's post.

The construction analogy is one I use often. There is a great difference in cost between building a pole barn and putting up a skyscraper. One does not charge skyscraper fee for a pole barn, or vice versa.

Now, if we can only educate the public. Maybe with more discussions like this, they will start asking what they get for their money.