Monday, June 25, 2007

My Fee for This Case

I've been practicing criminal law exclusively for almost 17 years and I still think hard when setting fees. Besides a lawyer's competence, the next most important issue to the client is how much the representation will cost. My fee should compensate me appropriately for the effort I anticipate expending for the client. Additionally, my fee should be fair to the client - a price that is hopefully within their acceptable range. But when setting a fee I will always err on the high side, rather than the low.

I love what Michael Sherman had to say about fees on his blog Law for Profit. When building the "perfect" law practice Michael theorized:
Because of their dedication to extraordinary client service and value, lawyers at the Perfect Practice are able to charge premium fees. This does a number of things: it drives off low paying business that you should not want anyway; it allows you to focus on quality instead of quantity; and by reducing the number of cases it allows the staff and lawyers to deliver better service.
I found this wisdom true in my practice of law. My fees run-off a fair number of prospective clients, but the clients that hire me get excellent and personalized service. I am able to work their cases hard since I carry a lighter caseload.

I also appreciate what Scott Greenfield, authoring Simple Justice, had to say on the issue of service:
A criminal defense lawyer is not your new best friend, your teacher or your therapist. He is the one person who stands between you and the awesome power of the government. You need a criminal defense lawyer who understands that his job is to serve your needs . . .

The simple truth is that the best possible result comes from a position of strength, not weakness. The only way to defend from a position of strength is to think "outside the box" to find innovate approaches that relate to the specific set of circumstances for each defendant. To develop a strategy that gives each defendant the best possible hope of success requires enormous effort.
To "think outside the box" a College Station criminal defense lawyer needs time. The fewer cases he handles at a premium fee, the more time the lawyer has to address specific client needs. I can tell both Michael and Scott spend time and work their cases hard because they aren't burdened by low paying business that other lawyers try to attract.

The defense lawyer should strive to charge premium fees to keep their caseload at levels where they can provide extraordinary client service. I can't count the number of cases that turned on a fact or issue I wouldn't have thought of - but for the time I spent thinking deeply about the case. The lawyers making a living on client volume are doing both their clients and themselves a disservice. Clients deserve the best effort we have but we can't provide it when we are juggling 200 active criminal cases, managing the staff, paying the bills, going to court, spending time in recreation, and loving our families.

Lawyers should not be afraid to charge premium fees and clients should not be afraid to pay them. Sure, the premium fee will run-off the price shopping prospects. But those clients are fooling themselves into believing they get quality service at a bottom dollar price. Setting fees will always remain a risk for the committed defense lawyer. However, running a business involves risk. Without risk there is no reward. Risk big - win big. Risk little - win little. Lawyers, don't be afraid to charge the premium fee. Clients, don't be afraid to pay it.

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