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July 17, 2006

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Larry

I must admit that I have struggled with this issue myself. One thing that I have noticed, however is that when lawyers have both fixed fee and hourly clients, they always gravitate toward working up the hourly clients, to the detriment of working the "fixed" fee files which have already been paid up. The incentive is always there to continue working the hourly file; that incentive is not there to work the other "fixed" file. It's like prepaying a contractor to remodel your house --it simply doesn't work, unless you don't mind having your project abandoned.

Perhaps it depends on the type of file. An institutional client might be best served in a heavy litigation matter with an hourly fee, while a couple hiring an attorney on an estate planning matter would prefer the fixed fee. I have found, personally, that individual clients generally get very uncomfortable with hourly billing on estate planning matters, which they see as potentially unlimited (even though, as a practical matter, it would not be). I think it's better client relations, personally, to offer either a range (if I am truly uncertain), or a fixed price in an estate planning matter -- but that's just my preference, based on my own experience. I find that the mutual expectations are more clearly set out, and the client sleeps better.

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