Well, to start, don’t get too excited – lawyers actually have a professional responsibility not to sleep with clients (with loopholes, of course). This post is more about seeing the inside of what you’re paying for when you write that check. The legal industry is in a bit of a tail spin… that is, on the top, Big Law is attempting to find new ways to screw big business into higher retainers, while smaller law firms are screwing smaller clients into paying big bucks for minimal work.
Generally, supply and demand will dictate price – but not in law. In Florida alone, we have some 90,000 attorneys. Recently, there was just an article heralding that finally Florida Big Law partners began charging over $900/hour. Seriously?!! In fact, you’re lucky if you find an attorney that charges less than $250.00 an hour. And, in full disclosure, that’s what I charge. However, the real problem is looking into what you’re actually paying for. Quite frankly, certain things we do deserve those prices, but many do not. For example, I had a colleague (well more than one really) tell me about the software his firm uses to draft wills and trusts. Literally, the attorneys ask a series of questions and press a button. They get a completed will and review. Takes… maybe an hour – they charge… maybe two grand. And this is only one example. This happens with many documents. This is not to say you should just run off to legal whatever dot com and say ‘hey, what a deal!’ No, the point is that you take some time to ask the right questions of your attorney. Ask if they are drafting from scratch? Ask how many they’ve done? Ask how long it will take them? And don’t expect exact numbers… they probably won’t have them, but you will have a good idea as to whether or not they are just pressing a button. I’ve heard of more than one attorney that presses a button, but holds off a day or so before giving it to the client so that it seems like more work was done. It is shameful, sure, but more prevalent than I care to think about.
There are plenty of great attorneys out there. Sure, they have templates they build off of, but they take the time to craft to your particular situation. It will never seem important in the present, but when you find yourself in a courtroom, it is a helluva lot better to go in front of a judge or jury and have your attorney ready to argue about your cause and not just about a template document they gave a once-over. And yes – it costs money. Depending on what document you’re having drafted, you are looking probably $500+. That money will be more than worth it if you get what you pay for, but don’t just agree without knowing the process. Don’t just pass off your most important issues to an attorney without knowing how the document will be produced. You are part of the process. You aren’t buying a cut of meat, you’re buying part of your life – be a part.