Saturday, August 04, 2001

Work in Progress


Continuation of Chapter One


In the previous installments (see previous posts or Archives), we discussed the Seven Traits you need to find in looking for lawyer who will defend you in your case. Thereafter, we discussed the issue of the size of the law firm you are getting. We reiterated that the Seven Traits are still the primary consideration. Law firm sizes, however, have their own inherent advantages that may be considered in finding the right lawyer. We are now ready to discuss one of the two other special considerations in choosing a lawyer: the professional fees.

No Standard Fee Structure
Did you ever wonder why lawyers do not have common fee structures? Some charge by the hour, some request for acceptance fees and bill per court appearance, others bill by contingency in terms of percentage of the award. The worst kind bills all. The reason is there is no such thing as a standard fee structure. Everything is relative to the lawyer. So a lawyer can charge you a million bucks for the same work for which another will charge you only Php 10,000. This is so because the lawyer's primary inventory (if you, for example, treat his business as a store) is her time.

Time: The lawyer's most valuable resource
Time is the most valuable resource that a lawyer needs for your case. If she has a lot of it, then the cost for you to acquire her services may be cheaper than another who has less. In addition, how a lawyer values her time is relative to her own personal values and economic targets. If you are coming to her with a work that will require her to leave her family for a month, she might turn you down even if you offer her millions. If you have a single lawyer, however, then you might be able to get her to do the job at half the price. This is also the reason why we said earlier that small law firms do not necessarily charge low rates. Small law firms may have chosen to stay small because the big clients have already bought all of their time. So if you come to them for work, they might charge you a lot higher as they have to make time for you and bump off another high paying client. In Manila, big law firms have priced their services based on the man-hours spent on the job. Yet, the man-hours rates are not the same. Some law firms charge rates of partners equivalent to the rates of associates in other law firms (how these law firms do it is a wonder of law firm management). Moreover, standard man-hour rates, do not prevent the big law firms from discounting or putting a premium on their fees. If, for instance, you come to them during the off peak season (which is usually December to February), you might be able to request for a discount on the fees as the demand for the lawyer's time are not strong. In the same manner, however, if you come to them during peak season (sometime in July and August), it will be difficult to get that discount.

Haggling strategy
Given the understanding that lawyers charge on how much they value their time, you can be assured that a strategy to acquire an optimum price for the services of your lawyer should be built around your assessment on the availability of your lawyer's time and the amount of time your case will consume. Difficult cases cost a lot because they take a lot of time to solve. Simple cases cost less as they don't eat too much time. Yet, bear in mind, that that's just one side of the equation. If there is a high demand for your lawyer's time, then you can be assured there will be a premium on the fees that she will charge you. Then, again if your lawyer's time is not in demand, should you be considering her in the first place?

Other considerations: More Business
There are other factors that affect the costs of legal services. The cost of overhead of your lawyer's office, for example, is one of these factors. The impact of this factor, however, is not as great as compared to the impact of time. Yet, one other factor that can have a potential impact in the lawyer's fees is the potential of the case to open more business for the lawyers. If the lawyers can see that your suit will, for instance, project her in the public eye as an expert in a field of law and trigger a bee line to her office, then you can expect that she can be more forgiving in her fees. In the same manner, if your lawyer knows that you will have more legal problems and will need her services regularly, you can surely request for a discount. In the office, I have often remarked that the ideal client can best be described in two P's: Paying and Perpetually in trouble. Paying -- because, of course, this is a profession. Perpetually in trouble -- because that means the business will not end in one case. (Ah! My kids' education is assured who needs pre-need plans?)

To be continued
Next Edition: Cases that You Should Offer Only to the Experts
Copyright 2001 All rights reserved.

No comments: