The legal fee should fit the case and it should fit the client. While most people associate hourly fees with defense work in civil trials, flat fees with criminal and family law, and contingency fees with personal injury plaintiff work, any of these types of fees can make sense, depending on the client goals, their internal budgeting, and their financial resources.
As more fully explained below, the hourly rate is just what it sounds like. The Gerber Law Firm gets paid for each hour (or part of the hour) that we work on the case. If the case gets busy, the fee is higher for the client. If the case is settled early, or the matter concluded quickly, then the client pays only for the legal services they use. However, if the matter takes more time than expected, the bill rises with it. This can lead to budgeting uncertainty. It also means that the law firm is paid whether we get a recovery or the client pays a settlement or verdict.
Alternative fees, however, shift some of the risk – and reward – to the lawyer. In a pure contingency fee, the attorney takes all of the risk of success on the firm. In a hybrid-contingency fee (smaller hourly fee, smaller contingency fee), the client and law firm share risk almost equally. A success fee does the same thing on the defense side of litigation. Flat fees (for the total matter, or a monthly flat fee) give clients budgeting certainty and the peace of mind knowing that their legal work will be covered in months when there is a lot of work, and months when there may be little.
The firm works with its clients at the beginning of the legal matter to outline the matter’s objective, the methods to reach the objective and the fee structure that best suits the matter, client, and the law firm.
In pure contingency fees, The Gerber Law Firm receives a fixed or scaled percentage of any recoveries in a lawsuit brought on behalf of the client as a plaintiff. These are typically 33% if the case is settled prior to suit, 40% if a lawsuit is filed, and 45% if the case goes to appeal after trial. The client typically pays – at the time they are incurred – the expenses of the litigation in a business plaintiff’s case (court reporter fees, expert costs), while in Plaintiff’s personal injury cases plaintiff the firm typically fronts expenses of litigation. However, we are also willing to discuss sharing part or all of the expense risk with business clients in appropriate cases.
Our goal as a law firm is to serve our clients with the best possible outcome. This involves not only getting the desired result in the matter, but in getting the matter done and paid for in the way that best serves the client and maximizes the law firm’s relationship with the client. In most cases The Gerber Law Firm will suggest a fee structure that we believe serves the client and case the best. Clients shouldn’t hesitate to discuss any of the types of fee arrangements to determine what works best for the client in the particular case. In many circumstances The Gerber Law Firm and the client will agree to a customized fee arrangement that combines some of the types of arrangements listed above (e.g. hourly billing during the pre-lawsuit portion of a litigation matter, followed by a hybrid-contingency after a lawsuit is filed).
The fee discussion goes hand in hand with a discussion of the client’s objectives and the law firm’s analysis of proper strategy for the legal matter.