Not all legal matters require the retention of a law firm. Many types of routine legal tasks and services can just as easily be performed by online services rather then through the traditional law firm pricing model. Consumers of basic legal services are benefiting from a very competitive and changing legal market that can deliver basic legal work at a fraction of traditional law firm prices. Here is what you need to know:
The drafting of basic and routine legal documents such as a petition for a name change or a living will, filing a copyright or drafting a basic last will and testament can usually be handled through a local or online document service. However, when legal issues require research, interpreting case law or legal problem solving, you are almost always better served by retaining an experienced lawyer. Lets look at the different ways lawyers charge consumers for basic legal services
Traditional Legal Fee Arrangements
Methods of attorney fee compensation include, contingency fees, hourly billing, and fixed rate fees. There are also blended fee agreements that incorporate two or more features of traditional forms of legal billing. Each of these fee arrangements is described below.
Contingency Fee Basis
In contingency fee cases, the firm agrees to earn its fee as a percentage of the client’s financial settlement or award. Customary contingency fees for personal injury law matters are usually based on one-third of the plaintiff’s total recovery before trial, and forty-percent of the plaintiff’s recovery should the matter actually proceed to trial. Both the attorney and the client assume the risk in these types of fee arrangements. If the client loses the case and receives nothing, so does the law firm.
Hourly Rate Basis (Billable Hour)
Most attorneys still charge by the hour for legal work rendered. Young lawyers are hired and told the number of billable they are “required” to bill. Hourly rates can range significantly depending on the qualifications and reputation of the lawyer or firm retained. Today hourly rates start in the three hundred dollar range. The disadvantage to hourly rate arrangements is that there is no incentive for the lawyer to complete the matter quickly. The sad truth remains, the longer a lawyer spends on a matter, the more the lawyers earns.
Fixed Fee Basis
Attorneys normally charge a fixed fee for standard routine matters such as wills, deeds, uncontested divorce, incorporation, name change and simple bankruptcy. Fixed fee or flat fees as they are sometimes called are based on a single price in exchange for the payment of a single fixed sum. In this type of arrangement, the attorney and firm are rewarded for efficiency and timesaving rather then for the amount of time it took to complete the matter.
Discount Legal Services
Some discount legal services are similar to the fixed fee arrangement explained above. The major difference is that most discount legal services utilize paralegals rather then attorneys to actually perform the work. For example, a simple non-contested divorce might cost just a few hundred dollars, compared with the customary few thousand dollars most divorce lawyers bill for the same uncontested divorce.
Other types of discount legal services provide the purchaser with fill-in-the-blank legal forms, which are fairly straightforward to complete. They are often called form kits. Each form kit is state specific so you know you are dealing with the right set of rules in your state. The form kit also comes with easy to read instructions and the whole package can cost you as little as $20.
Finally, there are family legal plans that resemble insurance products which are administered through large organizations, and which require monthly dues in exchange for deep discounts in specific types of legal services. The savings using these services can be substantial. The quality of attorney is usually not as high as you might find in some of the larger more prestigious firms, but then again, that’s why the service is costing half as much.