The following is a blog post by one of the best all-round divorce lawyers and savvy businessmen I know, Lee Rosen. This post is about how to win (and why you win) one of divorce’s major battles by hiring an attorney on a flat or fixed fee basis.
Edinburgh, Scotland — Scottish people seem confident to me. The big guys with the bagpipes, standing tall, are impressive. The shinty players in the park look strong with their sticks. The soldiers guarding the nearby armory seem tough. They all have this look of knowing what they’re doing, where they’re going, and how they’re going to deal with things when they arrive. Maybe I’ve just seen too many Sean Connery movies. I have no idea whether Scots are, in fact, confident. They probably have most of the same anxieties as the rest of us. But they hide it well. Confidence is important when it comes to fixed fees. Lack of confidence is a big part of why the fixed fee approach doesn’t work for some lawyers. I’ve had the same unfortunate conversation repeatedly. The lawyer explains that fixed fees didn’t work. The fees weren’t big enough. The lawyer did the work and would have earned substantially more if the billing had been hourly. Once that happens a few times, it’s common for the lawyer to return to hourly billing. In these instances, the problem isn’t fixed fees. The problem is that the lawyer set the fee too low. Lawyers, especially when new to figuring out pricing, guess low. They aren’t comfortable with a bigger number. They’re certain that the bigger fee will scare off the prospective client, so they go low to be sure they get the sale. Setting a low fixed fee is a mistake. Doing it because of fear is even worse. Fixed fees are valuable to clients. They appreciate the certainty of knowing what the legal work is going to cost. They’ll pay for that certainty because it’s important and valuable to them. The client understands that the lawyer is assuming the risk by setting a fee that won’t change. A reduction in risk translates into a reduction in stress. There is tremendous value to many clients in knowing that the price is set, the fee is paid, and the clock isn’t running But the lawyer who worries about losing the client, gets nervous, and cuts the fee is making a mistake. The lawyer could have earned some extra revenue for taking on the risk. The lawyer could have used the expertise that is gained by experience to assess, appreciate, and value the risk. The client could have benefited from the reduced risk, and the lawyer could have benefited from the increased fee. That’s a win/win. Everybody wins when the lawyer charges a reasonable fixed fee. Everybody loses when the lawyer lacks the confidence to fearlessly communicate and collect the fee. Maybe the next time you sit down to discuss a fee, you should think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart playing the part of William Wallace. Wallace was the hero in the movie, and he was not afraid. Wallace was convicted of treason and condemned to torture and beheading. Even as he was being drawn and quartered, he refused to submit to the king. The magistrate offered Wallace one final chance to say “mercy” and be granted a quick death instead of having the torture continue. Wallace shouted “Freedom!” instead.Confidence, determination, and knowing that the fixed fee can be a good thing for everyone involved will empower you to set an appropriate fee, say the words, and believe them when you do. Say it with a Scottish accent if it helps. I’m not entirely sure how the Scots became so confident. Maybe they get it from wearing a kilt around town. All I know is that Scots seem confident. You can do it too.