Yesterday marked the inaugural post of my blog. It is intended to share, more or less frequently, observations about practice, Life, the life of practice, and the work of helping people sort through their divorce and emerge with hope. The occasional personal note is allowed, but 'not to worry.' It'll probably have to do with fly fishing or food. I'll try to make it interesting.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Just returned from the Strategic Solutions for Solo & Small Firms, where several programs made the case for "alternative billing" procedures--conference speak for "flat fees." It's an intriguing idea.
I opened my solo practice 25 years ago (next month), intending to practice only family law. But as a former municipal prosecutor, I had experience handling criminal cases. A year later, most of my files were criminal defense, and so it continued until five or six years ago. Criminal files are almost always handled on a flat-fee basis, and as I considered what I liked about that arrangement, it occurs to me that much of my family law practice could be handled that way.
Most of my cases today are Collaborative. What that means in terms of the likely progress of a case is that I won't have to accommodate temporary hearings, depositions, formal discovery, initial case management conferences, or hastily scheduled judicial conference calls within the case timeline. I'll be representing a client who is motivated to reach a good agreement with their spouse. And I'll be representing someone who see the value of that settlement as exceeding the value of exacting "revenge" on their spouse.
Matthew Homan, email@example.com, the primary presenter of the concept, estimates that, by committing to bill by the hour, failure to record actual time worked can short the lawyer 10 percent. If you add in the additional reasons for not collecting the full hourly rate times the hours actually worked, lawyers are failing to realize 20 to 25 percent of the value of their time.
By reviewing past cases and calculating average case costs, a reasonable flat fee can be quoted that actually puts the attorney in a better financial position than the hourly bills that don't reflect actual time. Not having to keep time records can add 10 percent to your workday in and of itself, by some estimates. So I'm giving it serious consideration.
In the last 24 hours, I've floated this concept to two people--one a prospective client, and the other a client whose case is just being finished. When asked what they thought of the idea, both were instantly open to the concept, and both were able to summarize why they and I might benefit from such an arrangement. As with Collaborative Practice itself, it may be another development that simultaneously improves our lives and the quality of our service by letting us concentrate on the latter.