Agreement for Legal Services - Flat Fee/More Info


  Agreement for Legal Services - Flat Fee 
Additional Information 
Ethical Considerations 
 
The Model Professional Rules of Conduct for the legal profession recommend that new clients be advised, preferably in writing, about the basis or rate of legal fees within a reasonable time after the law firm begins work.  Many states have more stringent requirements.  For example, the state of New Jersey requires that the basis or rate of the fee be put in writing and, if the services are for personal, family or household purposes, the agreement be written in plain language.   

Fees And Charges 
 
While the Agreement for Legal Services - Flat Fee can help to make sure that the parties agree on all important items, the most important is the lawyer's fees.  The most common complaint against lawyers involves the amount charged for legal services.  These complaints could be substantially reduced by clearly defining in a written agreement not only the charges for the lawyer's services, but by also defining charges, if any, for things like secretarial services, photocopying and other items that may be "passed through" to the client.  Lawyers call these "disbursements".   

This form of agreement contemplates that the lawyer will charge a single, fixed amount for completing a defined project.  There are many situations where a flat fee arrangement is possible: 

· preparing a single contract, will or other document,  
· reviewing a contract or document (such as from the application), 
· preparing a legal memo in response to questions about the law, or 
· negotiating a single transaction.   

Make sure that you talk with your lawyer to determine when a flat fee arrangement is possible.  Also remember that the lawyer should negotiate for a fee that is approximately equal to the amount of time the lawyer thinks it will take to complete the project.  If the lawyer spends less than the predicted time, he or she collects a windfall.  If the lawyer spends more than the predicted time, the client comes out ahead.   

Other Matters 
 
In addition to covering fees, a good agreement will address other items, such as the right of the primary attorney to delegate the client's work to other attorneys or paralegals in the firm, whether the law firm may employ outside consultants, such as investigators and experts, and a clear statement of the services to be performed.   

It is not unusual for an individual or business to have more than one law firm that provides services.  For example, an individual may have estate planning work provided by one firm, real estate matters handled by another law firm, and litigation handled by still another.  Whether you get all of your services from one large firm, or spread legal work around, is largely a matter of the client's discretion.  Some individuals and businesses like to know that all (or at least most) of their legal needs can be met in one place.  Others have developed their own network of individual lawyers with expertise in a particular area.   

What If You're Not Happy With Your Bill? 
 
Do not hesitate to talk to your lawyer if you think you have been charged too much.  Before you have that discussion, tell your lawyer that you do not want to be charged for the time spent discussing fee matters.   

If you are still not happy with the result, you may take your complaint to the state or local bar association.  Many local bar associations have mediation or arbitration services for handling these disputes.  Ask if these services are available.