The Brilliance and the Curse of the Flat Fee

Every so often a potential client asks me whether or not I offer flat fee services for divorce. The concept is simple: The attorney agrees to handle the client's divorce for a set, flat amount of money. Some attorneys boldly broadcast their use of such services. I once met a guy in court who stated that he offers divorces with children for a flat rate of $10,000, and divorces without children for a flat rate of $5,000.

I have no problem tossing these kinds of numbers around because I simply do not offer flat fee services. And much like how employers must find an employees that are the right "fit" for their companies, I certainly need to have clients that are the appropriate fit for my practice. With that said, in my humble opinion, people who seek flat fees are the same people who don’t mind braving through a 30 minute long wait to get a parking spot, to spend another half hour in line going through crowded aisles bumping into people, only to spend another half hour waiting to pay a cashier for goods at Costco. To them, getting the lowest price is paramount, and to them, all goods are the same, whether you buy detergent at Target, Walmart, or Costco.

Attorneys however, are not fungible. That is to say attorneys, like doctors, accountants, and architects, offers services. Therefore the range of services that a client may receive can vary tremendously. When an attorney decides that she would prefer to do something on a flat basis, she treats her client like a commodity. She further treats her client is if she is the functional equivalent of every other client. Yet in over 10 years of practice, I have gradually realized that no two clients are the same. More importantly, no two opposing sides are the same.

To those who believe that flat fees are a viable option, I typically present the curious case of Carl Johnson. Carl is an actual client, however, his name has been changed to protect his privacy. I represented Carl in not one but two divorces from two very different women. Wife One was a crazy, belligerent, rude individual. She was so hostile that she and Carl couldn't even agree on the time of day, let alone what adequate terms for their divorce would be. Carl's divorce proceedings lasted for well over 3 ½ years as a result of Wife One.

Wife Two on the other hand was fairly pragmatic. She took a realistic view of the custody for her and the child that she shared with Carl; she was also fair with regards to the division of the couple's property. Consequently, Carl spent over ten thousand dollars less in his divorce from Wife Two and his divorce was finalized in a year's time.

Hence, the same individual, with the same sensibilities, can end up with two vastly different results in divorces from different people. So if the price or cost of divorce can vary with the same individual, how in the world can attorneys attempt to flat fee divorces amongst literally hundreds of types of differing individuals? I will tell you how: Attorneys will typically do bare minimum work, and will try to force a settlement without necessarily weighing the best options for their individual clients. This might result in a client not necessarily getting the visitation schedule that he wanted under the incorrect belief his attorney gave him that he had no "realistic shot" of getting his desired custodial arrangement. It might mean that somebody is convinced that he should just give his spouse all of the timeshares the couple owns, because "there's no real value to split there anyway". I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that when you want attorneys to do volume, "Costco-type" work, you probably won't net optimal results.

I understand that, for some, a lawyer is a lawyer, and a divorce is a divorce. However, at our firm, we strive to break that mold, and we treat each situation as if it is different and unique. The other side of that coin is that fees can vary widely, because of this. So in the end, if volume, commodity, and price certainty are most important for you when it comes to issues as important as your children, your property, your retirement funds, and your livelihood, then I do not believe that the Cannon Legal Group is ideal for you. If, however, you believe that your problem requires a unique perspective, then I would highly suggest that you contact us as soon as possible.

Categories: Divorce