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April 24, 2008


The worry about getting the fixed fee "right" stems from our brains looking at everything in terms of hours having value. If we can break that habit, then fixed fees aren't so worrisome.

An analogy (albeit a poor one) is a car: for the most part, auto makers can produce a $15,000 car in the same amount of time that they can produce a $50,000 car, yet they do not charge us based upon the number of hours that went into making the car. They charge us based upon the value of what they sell and we want to buy.

For clients, it's easier for them to say "yeah, it's worth $2,500 for me to get this divorce" than to say "I'm willing to have you put X hours into the case." The other side of the coin is the lawyer saying "the work I did was worth $2,500" or "the work I did was probably worth more than $2,500."

We all have cases where we put more time in than we thought we would, but many of those cases also end up with unpaid client bills. The end result is the same--our expectation of being paid a fair amount was not met.

But, on the flip side, there are those cases where we can quote a $2,500 fee and get it done quickly. We shouldn't feel bad about "making more" than we would have under an hourly rate--for the client, the end result is the same.

In a nutshell, hourly billing has many flaws. Some things we do as lawyers can be done very quickly, but are worth more than the time it takes to do them. It's easier for clients to understand the value of achieving a goal--like obtaining the divorce--than to understand how much time goes into doing discovery and the resulting fees based on an hourly rate.

I hope that makes sense--I haven't had my morning OJ yet.

Don't be afraid of flat fees. I've been making that move, and clients seem very comfortable with the concept. I figure I will quote the fee a little higher, and in the end, if I feel the fee was a bit high, I can always reduce it--and you can imagine how much clients will appreciate that.

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