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October 2018

Legal Fee Agreements In The Evolving Legal Profession

Technology has increased our access to information, and this open access has changed the availability of legal services. Now that there are various resources outside of law firms, the way that clients seek legal help is evolving. Clients of all types have more options depending on their legal needs – they can pay for an attorney who works on a case from start to finish, or they can seek out less hands-on resources for more straightforward matters. As the scope of representation changes, the attorney client fee agreement changes with it. Below is a discussion of the latest range of legal services and the fees that clients can expect to pay for those services.

A fee agreement contract sets out the fees to be paid and how those fees will be paid. Depending on the service provided, a lawyer fee agreement may involve contingency fees, hourly fees or flat fees. With a contingency fee agreement, a client that is seeking money damages but is unable to pay an attorney upfront agrees to pay the attorney a percentage of the awarded damages if he or she wins the case. A traditional sample attorney fee agreement will set out an hourly rate for the attorney ($100 to $300 or more), and sometimes a paralegal or legal assistant as well, to handle all aspects of a case. Flat fees, or single fixed fees, are becoming more popular as clients have more options for legal services.

Legal services for low-income clients may not be subject to a fee agreement. For pro bono cases, the services are usually provided at no charge by volunteer lawyers. Fees may be minimal, and the lawyer agreement should be clear about any fees involved. In some instances, pro bono clients will pay a discounted rate or will be asked to pay reasonable court costs. Unlike clients with contingency fee agreements, though, pro bono clients do not have to pay their attorney a portion of their awarded damages.

With the help of cloud based software, low-income clients also have the option to have court documents prepared for them without a lawyer. For pro se litigants who are unable to afford an attorney, resources like Access to Justice (A2J) Author can assist them in filling out court forms. Clients can access A2J Author’s interactive forms through different state-wide DIY program websites. They are then asked a series of questions so that the A2J Author software can assemble ready-to-file court documents for their legal needs. This option eliminates the legal fee agreement, as A2J Author is free to qualified litigants as well as courts and legal service organizations.

For clients who don’t qualify for pro bono services but can’t afford a lawyer’s hourly rate service, law firms offer “unbundled” services. To reduce the fees in an attorney client agreement, attorneys can provide unbundled services by agreeing to limit the scope of representation. Unbundled services are typically done with flat fee pricing. For example, a client can pay a fixed fee for an attorney to only appear and represent him or her at a mediation. Another client might just need an attorney to draft specific documents, so that client would pay a flat fee for that limited service only.

Alternatively, clients can purchase documents or advice online in lieu of paying for an attorney’s full-time service. These services are available for those who need basic contract drafting/review and brief consultations. Several websites offer packages with resources for estate planning, starting a business and intellectual property protection. Clients can buy these services per document or consultation, or in some cases by paying a monthly or yearly fee.

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