In the past, when searching for a law firm, consumers met with various law firms or simply selected an attorney that was recommended to them. Then, the consumer was immediately expected to sign a retainer agreement and deposit the retainer funds. A retainer agreement is a work for hire contract where the you pay in advance for work to be completed later. For years legal services were retained, meaning they were paid for in advance. This allows law firms to operate risk free and simply withdraw from counsel if the retainer funds are not replenished in the time agreed upon in the agreement.
Paying in advance for your legal services gives you little negotiating power because your invoice has already been paid at the time you receive it. When a law firm, or any business for that matter, is awaiting payment then you can be sure that their customer service will automatically improve until they believe that no payment is forthcoming. One benefit of paying in advance is that attorneys are likely to make work a priority when it is already paid for, unfortunately that can also lead to attorneys over working certain cases so that they can pay their bills.
Attorneys generally charge by the billable hour. Meaning, your Utah lawyer charges a set amount for each hour of work that they have attributed to your case. Keep in mind that attorneys have minimum billing requirements within their firm so it is in their best interest to bill a large quantity of hours. In short, the traditional attorney billing system is in place to benefit the law firm.
How can you receive good legal services and at the same time pay a fair price. In the current state of the economy, clients are gaining more negotiating power and often have the ability to negotiate flat fees. A flat fee agreement requires payment up front for legal work not yet completed; however, you should never pay more than what you agree to. Flat fee agreements are not likely available in all circumstances, but more and more Utah lawyers are shifting towards allowing flat fee agreements.
Flat fee agreements also allow you to negotiate a price you are comfortable with upfront for a complete service rendered. This prevents a bottomless pit of unexpected charges, phone calls, and emails that can add up to a surprising amount of money.
Utah lawyers are also shifting to representation agreements, as oppose to retainer agreements. With this type of agreement, each client is able to negotiate bill rates and payment plans upfront. Representation agreements can also include the client receiving a written update of their case each month prior to the bill being paid. Typically, an attorney would bill your for providing and update, but you can include this service in your representation agreement and benefit from the cost savings. When negotiating for attorney bill rates, you can also negotiate staff bill rates. Legal support staff often bill between $40-150/hr for work completed on your file. Don’t be afraid to control your bills because there are plenty of attorneys out there that want to be paid for their work.
Hiring an attorney is historically one of the most stressful process people experience. Take some of the stress away by finding a Utah lawyer that is willing to negotiate some non-traditional billing practices into your agreement. If you are proactive about negotiating payment terms up front (and you hold up your side of the agreement), you will find reduced stress and improved efficiency in your legal case. You can always schedule a meeting with one of our attorneys or come in to any of our Utah locations and you will likely find that someone will be able to discuss your situation with you, even if it is only for a moment. We are opening a new office in Salt Lake City (560 East 500 South, Suite 100, Salt Lake City Utah 84102) so that we can better serve our Salt Lake County clients.