There are two common billing structures used by family law attorneys in Oklahoma: Flat Fee and Hourly billing. Each structure has both advantages and disadvantages. The goal should be to customize the billing structure to each individual case. This ensures a fair deal for both the client and the attorney.
Hourly Fee Structure:
Hourly billing means the attorney charges an hourly rate which is dependent on the reputation, skill, and experience of the attorney. This is probably the most common billing structure used by attorneys. As with most all things in life, you get what you pay for. New attorneys have a lower hourly rate. Attorneys that have been practicing law for a long time have a higher hourly rate.
A retainer, or advance payment of fees, is paid at the start of the case and deposited into the attorney’s trust account. As the attorney completes work on the case, the funds are moved from the trust account and are collected by the attorney. Typically, the client is required to maintain a minimum balance in the trust account. So, as work is completed and the trust account balance decreases, the client deposits into the trust account to maintain the minimum balance. Upon completing the case and after the final bill is paid, any unearned trust account balance is returned to the client.
I think hourly billing is the best fit when I anticipate discovery, contested issues, or when it is difficult to predict how much work will be involved.
Flat Fee Structure:
In a flat fee structure, there are no hourly charges for time spent on the case. Instead, the client pays a set amount covering a specified period no matter how many expended hours. Thus, the client knows the minimum and the maximum their case will cost at the start of the case.
For many years, I used flat fees almost exclusively. However, I learned the hard way that a flat fee structure is not always the best option. If the attorney underestimates the amount of work required, which seems to happen often, it ends up costing the attorney money out of their own pocket. After having this happen one too many times, I now limit the use of flat fees to uncontested matters. If I anticipate discovery, contested issues, contested hearings, or I just am not sure how much of my time will be required, I now use an hourly billing structure.
After discussing your case and learning the particular facts, I can tell you whether a Flat Fee or Hourly Structure is most appropriate for your specific case. The amount of attorney fees always boils down to one thing—how much work your case will require to properly represent you and give you the best shot at achieving your goals.
Written Representation Agreements
Your attorney should provide you, and you should expect, a written Representation Agreement. The agreement will set forth in detail the amount of attorney’s fees, how you will be billed, and what will be expected of you. When I first started, my agreements were pretty short and covered only the basics. Over time, my agreements have become quite detailed. I have found that detailed agreements ensure that both the attorney and client are on the same page. A clear agreement can eliminate any miscommunication or misunderstandings later.
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