Why am I being charged hourly instead of having a “flat fee”?
Many lawyers and law firms that work in the area of family law, label cases and “categorize” a case by looking at the level of conflict that exists between the parties. Are the parties calm, cool and ready to proceed with their lives, or are they angry and bitter and itching to fight.
Many attorneys and firms such as C.E. Schmidt and Associates classify a case as an “amicable” case when the parties to the conflict are in agreement with respect to the terms and conditions of the ultimate outcome. For instance, if the spouses have been able to set aside strong emotions and have worked together to make difficult decisions such as how the equity in the house will be divided or with whom the children will live the majority of the time – a flat fee – one fee that covers the legal work from beginning to end is the way to go. When couples agree to be agreeable and can formulate a workable plan, the attorney can execute all the procedurally necessary legal steps to bring about the ultimate concluding order — the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce. The legal fees that result in such a divorce process can be quite modest and affordable. This is the beauty of a flat fee divorce.
On the other hand, the high octane fire that is burning in a extremely contested case makes it impossible to set a flat fee. Will depositions be taken? What about “discovery” (the litigation tool that enables each side to fully examine the evidence that the other side has) – will we need a formal Temporary Orders hearing or will a mediation suffice? Ultimately will the case go to trial? Going through a highly contested divorce process can be analogized to receiving cancer treatment. Depending on the type of cancer and one’s oncologist, surgery may be recommended, radiation, or multiple rounds of chemo. As each body reacts differently to various forms of treatment, ultimately bringing cancer into remission can be a totally unpredictable process . Similarly, each divorcing spouse may react differently to being questioned during a deposition or having to answer interrogatories (a fancy lawyer word for questions). Will a party crumble on the stand in a formal hearing or will that party conduct themselves in a calm, cool, and collected manner. This is the contested case – the case where a client is charged by the hour — most experienced family law practitioners know better than litigate such a case on a flat fee basis. If an attorney doesn’t understand the quicksand they might be in, they will figure it out very soon — your case may suffer considerably in the process.
The conclusion of a highly contested case may take 6 months or 2 and a half years — 35 hours of work or 100 hours of work. To predict the required time frame requires a crystal ball. The lawyer that can “see” what is in the “contested case crystal ball” is most likely not the lawyer with enough experience to understand what they are getting into!
What is your situation? Schedule an appointment with C.E. Schmidt and Associates, and let us give you the straight story on what may likely be required to conclude your family law matter.