Flat Fee Divorce Billing in the Service Industry of Law
I was having a conversation with my I.T. guy — Taylor — about ‘flat fee divorce’ and flat fee billing by lawyers. Taylor actually posts a pricing menu for his services on his website at Slate I.T. Consulting. If he’s got a significant job (like wiring a 7,000 square foot house) he obtains a deposit for the services.
That sounds a lot like the way the law works with retainers and the like.
Except rarely do lawyers and law firms post price menus. In fact, you’re very much looked down upon by the Lovey and Mr. Howell lawyers (Gilligan’s Island reference), or the too cool for school crowd, if you talk about flat fees.
The reason: lawyers still enjoy a captive market and the profession jealously defends your captivity.
But don’t be fooled by lawyers who wax eloquently about potential ‘conflict of interest’ in flat fee billing. That’s nonsense (although it does sound enticing).
Similar ‘potential conflicts’ can be seen everywhere in the profession. It’s akin to a conspiracy theory.
Suffice it to say that your contested divorce or child custody case is always broken into segments, or scenes in the overall story that is the conflict itself.
It’s true that some stories have more actors than others. Indeed, some stories are more complex. But those of us who pay attention to the ‘structure of the story‘ (or myth, thank you Joseph Campbell) know that stories tend to come in patterns: Romeo & Juliet is West Side Story is The Twilight Saga is so forth and so on . . .
Your divorce is a story and it does fit a pattern in the limited universe of civil law.
So flat fee billing is not the wave of the future. It’s already here. It’s just that the profession is slow to change.
So research, shop and buy. Clip coupons and look for deals. Law is increasingly a service industry . . . and the customer is always right to shop.
People are Patterns, So Are Cases . . . Hence, the Temptation of the ‘Flat’ Fee in a ‘Property’ Divorce
It’s been said that there’s nothing new under the sun. Indeed, we tend to repeat ourselves at many levels, including in our relationships and conflicts. Divorces and disputes over property also repeat in patterns.
But our lives definitely matter at the personal level. We are individual souls traveling together. But there’s also that very palpable and powerful relation which links us. Our highly personal lessons and paths interlink with other souls and we somehow grow together in the mysterious dance of life . . . and the very real hurts and frustrations we share (and cause!) on the dance floor.
We know what moves us. Those of us who practice in this area see profound similarities (when we’re watching). At a crude level, your case is a ‘property’ case or a ‘kids’ case or both (that is, the issues relate to marital property or conservatorship of children).
Respectfully, I think I already know you . . . as you also know me. There’s a limited universe to conflict and there’s a limited universe to what Family Courts do with our conflicts (and what lawyers do in litigating them).
So I’ll consider a flat fee for your divorce, but likely not your child custody case. Kids bring too many wild cards into the fray, including lofty, racing emotions infecting everyone a little differently — from lawyers to judges to appointees to the little one who speaks privately with the judge in her chambers . . .
But trinkets and things don’t have emotions. Ultimately, your collection is just that . . . stuff.
That’s good news to those who seek certainty in knowing the financial risk in their divorce.
Child Custody Isn’t a ‘Fight!’ … It’s a Journey
Words matter. While it’s tempting and natural to see every opposition we encounter as a fight, that word implies doing physical harm to your opponent. Although the word appeals to our core nature, it’s also a primitive approach to living.
Child custody lawsuits are just that — civil actions requiring courts to settle disagreements. You don’t take a boxer, a warrior or a general into the action with you … you take a lawyer.
If we once felt strongly enough about someone to procreate (or otherwise share life), then we truthfully don’t want to hurt them, anyway (regardless of what we may tell our subsequent partners). Instead, we’ve simply been hurt (betrayed, etc.) and express our fears, frustrations and anger through our words.
But courts (judges) and most jurors don’t embrace the lawyer or litigant who claims a ‘fight‘ for mere civil disagreement. When you show up ready to ‘fight’ for your child … you look like a bully, a thug/thuggette or otherwise unstable — you’re not appealing. Our true challenge in that circumstance is to overcome a primitive approach to disagreement and communicate the better angel of our natures …. and love our child in the process.
But I’ve also been there. It’s taken me awhile to move beyond the ‘fight!‘ mentality and to see the family law process for what it is — just a delicate process, not an arena.
Plus, I figured it was better for my child if I grew up and got over the old lexicon. It only takes one parent to make a difference.
Child custody litigation entails social studies, lawyers who dabble in social work and (gad!) actual mental health professionals … plus the judges who are thrown into the mix. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s complicated.
If we can help you navigate your path through child custody litigation or modification, please call us.
We’re careful and smart about the journeys we take … and any ‘fight!‘ we choose.