Flat Fee Billing Questions

I am frequently asked questions about my flat fee billing.

I bill on a weekly flat fee basis. Usually $500 per week, although the weekly fee can be higher if the case is a an unusually challenging or demanding one. The most common questions I get about my flat fee billing are:

So, it will be $500 a week until the divorce is final? What if no progress or work has been done that week?

The main concern behind that question is really, “How bad is the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer going to get?” It’s a very important question. And the answer is: retaining a good lawyer’s services will be expensive. There is, unfortunately, no way around that. Hiring cheap divorce lawyers usually results in you getting what you pay for.[1]

My flat fee structure is, however, one of the least expensive ways to get high quality legal services.

When you pay your lawyer by the hour, you’re handing the lawyer a blank check.

This is why I state my fees up front as a weekly flat fee of $500. And I subject each week’s fee to a “satisfaction or you don’t pay” guarantee for each week’s fees.

Candidly, if I billed by the hour, I would make more money. People who become a divorce lawyer’s client for the first time usually don’t have a very good idea of how much time and effort an attorney puts into the work.

A 10-page memorandum can take several days to research and write. If the attorney bills at the rate of $300 per hour and spends 3-4 hours per day for three days on the memorandum, that’s $2,700. In just three days. I bill $500 flat fee per week. Thus, it should not come as a surprise if, in a particular day or week, I do several thousand dollars’ worth of work (had the work been billed at an hourly rate) and then the next day/week I do comparatively very little work, if any work at all. The point is that the fees even out over time.

I modeled my flat fee billing on the “budget programs” that many utility companies implemented. If you’re not already a part of such a program yourself, they work like this: the utility company figures out what you spend each month for heat or electricity in a year.

Most people use more natural gas and electricity for heat in the fall and winter months than in the spring and summer months. If you paid as needed, you would pay less in the spring and summer and more in the fall and winter. That can make it hard to stick to a monthly budget when your expenses fluctuate each month.

The budget program helps make it easier to budget for your payments by taking the average of what you pay each month over a year’s time and then charging you that average amount each month. That way you know what you’re paying each month, instead of each month being a surprise, and the utility companies still get paid in full for what they provided. Budget plans, like my flat fees schedule, make it easier to budget what you’ll be paying each month because you know up front what you pay each month.

Other questions that arise when talking about my flat fee billing are:

  • Do I pay $500 per week until the divorce is final?
  • What if no progress has been made or no work has been done that week?

To answer those questions:

  • A client pays $500 per week, with the exception of substantial lulls in the case when there is no work to be done while we wait on someone or some event. If all the work that needs to be done is done and we’re just waiting for a week or several weeks before a hearing, for example, then the $500 weekly fee is suspended during such lulls.
  • Subject to the exceptions I described in response to Question 1, a client pays $500 per week until the proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law and proposed Decree of Divorce has been submitted to the court for signing.

And I don’t get this question enough, so I will ask and answer it myself here: Question: are there any other costs besides the $500 per week?

Answer: Yes, there can be and usually are. They include:

  • Fees Charged on a Full-day or Half-day Basis. Fees charged in addition to you your weekly fixed fee, in the amount of $2,400 per full day (no less than 5 hours and no more than 7 hours per day), or $1,200 per half day (up to 4 hours) include fees for: a) Mediation (you almost certainly will go to mediation); b) Evidentiary Hearings (these rarely occur in the typical divorce case); c) Depositions (it is likely you may depose the opposing party or be deposed by the opposing party in your case), the fee for a deposition is paid in advance of the date(s) set for the deposition(s).
  • Proffer Hearing or Pretrial Conference Fee. If you have any proffer hearings or pretrial conferences (you probably will), the fee for proffer hearings and pretrial conferences is $500 per hearing/conference. “Proffer” means an offering of proof. In a proffer hearing your attorney summarizes for the court what you and other witnesses would have said, instead of actually having you or the witness(es) testify in court.
  • Trial preparation fee. If the case is ready to certify as ready for trial or is actually certified as ready for trial by the opposing party, the trial preparation fee (in addition to your weekly fixed fee, any other expenses, expert witness fees, equipment fees, fees charged by third parties, and other litigation expenses) is $4,800 for every day of trial, which fee is due within seven calendar days of date the firm notifies you a) that it is ready to certify the case as ready for trial; or b) the opposing party has certified the case as ready for trial, whichever comes first. To ensure there is no confusion, understand that the preparation fee for each day of trial is $4,800. Each full day in trial is an additional $2,400, and each half day in trial is $1,200.
  • Fees for additional and/or unanticipated work, if any. You understand that unforeseen circumstances can arise and/or that the court, the opposing party/opposing counsel, or other people or organizations may act in ways that were not planned for, that were unforeseen, and/or that are beyond the firm’s control and that may require further time and charges not contemplated by this fixed fee agreement. Any additional fees for any additional and/or unanticipated work that you may need or want done over and above what the firm intended and anticipated the weekly $500 fixed fee to cover will be agreed upon between you and the firm and reduced to writing before any such additional work is performed and charged.
  • All expenses the firm may incur or advance in connection with providing legal services will be billed to you separately. All variable expenses will be billed according to the actual amount of the expense. Examples of variable expenses include, but are not limited to, filing fees, recording fees, deposition costs, expert witness fees, investigator fees, postage, photocopying, parking, etc. Court filing fees. The court itself, not the firm, charges a $333 filing fee to file a complaint for divorce, a $100 court fee to file a counterclaim for divorce. If your case requires paying a filing fee, your court filing fee is an expense that you pay.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

[1] That stated, it isn’t true that the more you pay a divorce lawyer the better you’ll do. You can waste money on a lawyer who charges too much just as easily as you can waste money on a lawyer who charges you too little to get the job done right. Make sure you find the best value for the money when you retain a lawyer’s services.

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