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In order to avoid unwelcome surprises, it is important that people seeking counsel regarding a personal, legal, or business matter perform a certain degree of due diligence in selecting a law firm.
When choosing the right law firm, you should start with the basics. To begin, make sure they are able to convincingly demonstrate real experience and obvious skill in the subject matter at issue. Next, learn the compensation structure of the firm. Do they have a “free market” style of billing? Are their fees more rigid and lockstep? Are they sensitive to the budgetary limitations of their client? Is everything performed on an hourly basis? If so, are fee-caps available? Is it possible to work instead under a flat-fee schematic wherein the client knows exactly what will be spent before the commencement of any attorney-client relationship? These are all salient questions.
Some startup ventures or entrepreneurial projects are suited to a flat-fee agreement. Firms may opt for this type of fee arrangement when they are involved in transactional work, but note, this measure of billing is not a feasible arrangement for cases that involve any substantial litigation.
Although there is some current shift towards the utilization of the flat fee, the disadvantages to using them are two-fold, and can affect either the law firm or the client: 1. A firm may offer a flat-fee agreement only to end up with a difficult client or a much more difficult task than they anticipated; or 2. A client may agree to a flat fee, but if the retained firm completes the job in 1 to 2 hours, it may appear as if the attorney(s) didn’t dedicate much time in exchange for the money paid – even if they did a great job.
In spite of the downsides, flat-fee agreements are a good way to protect the client from being surprised with an enormous bill. Even if flat fees are not an option, a client may still ask for pricing guidelines and parameters.
Many firms will offer up to one hour of a free consultation. It’s the firm’s duty to give you their pitch and educate you about the process and potential difficulties involved. Potential clients should be seeking a lawyer who is a straight shooter.
Some questions pertinent to potential clients include:
- How many court cases have you handled in this area of law?
- Have you successfully argued this issue in court or on appeal?
- How long have you been practicing in this area of law?
- What are the possible outcomes of my case?
- Are you comfortable counseling a transaction of this kind?
- How many times have you performed this type of transaction?
- What are the pitfalls to look out for?
If offered, it’s important to take advantage of the one-hour, or even half-hour, consultation and to try and determine the real-world experience, billing parameters, and general accessibility of whatever firm you are considering.
What other questions do you have about your case?