LAWYERS’ FEES TOTAL TRANSPARENCY. IS THIS POSSIBLE?
October 2020 / Reading Time: 5 minutes
Marketing a legal service and being totally transparent about the fees is not something common. Most of the time, law firms will post on their website the legal services they provide along with a general description of the fees, like hourly fee or fixed fee. You will rarely find any actual number to reflect the value of those fees. The most common reason why this is happening is that it’s almost impossible for lawyers to evaluate upfront how much they should charge for a legal service as long as they don’t know the clients’ legal needs.
While this is, in fact, quite a valid assessment, it still leaves the clients wondering how much they will be charged by their lawyers for their legal problems. You might think this is not such a big issue, but as it results, it kinda is. At least for the people who are in the need of legal services.
During the most part of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, I did a little experiment, conducting a personal survey in order to see if my intuition was on the right track regarding the lawyers’ fees perception. At first, my target were my close friends and family. Then I expanded the circle to my network of acquaintances. The third and last step was to include most of my previous clients. What were the survey’s questions?
Well, I asked all these people what is their first thought when they face a legal issue, regardless of the law area it came from. Do they think to call a lawyer or do they initially try to seek advice from their family and/or close friends? I also asked them about their comfort level when knowing that it’s time for them to schedule a meeting with an attorney. Are they feeling any discomfort when they’re thinking that they should go and see a lawyer about their problem?
The results were staggering. The vast majority pointed into the same direction, towards a thing that was bugging me as well for some time. No matter their nationality or their income level, most of them were telling me the same thing: the most uncomfortable thing is the uncertainty they felt regarding the lawyer’s fee. Not knowing, until after the meeting with the lawyer, at least an estimated amount of what they’ll have to pay, was apparently the trigger for this major discomfort.
Most of the interviewees were aware of the fact that, without knowing the nature and the length of their clients’ legal issues, it’s very hard for attorneys to estimate the fees for their services. Nevertheless, they were still expressing their desire to be able to know upfront an estimated maximum value of the fees they’ll be paying. Some of them argued, quite legitimately in my opinion, that in their business, their clients know upfront the price of the products or services they are selling or providing, therefore they should also be able to know upfront the amount they need to pay to their lawyer.
What bewildered me the most though, was the fact that almost two thirds of them were telling me that this uncertainty was the main reason why they didn’t go to see a lawyer immediately, although their legal situation required it. Going further and asking more follow-up questions, I concluded that this uncertainty has its roots in the fear of the unknown that it’s connected, among others, to a potential “shame” of admitting to the lawyer or to themselves that they were expecting a different, lower, fee level. And, worst of all, the effect of this uncertainty was that it reminded them of one particular frustrating feeling. It turns out that, in most cases, they felt like they didn’t have any other option but to accept the fee their lawyer just communicated to them, leaving them with a lack of control feeling.
Finishing this survey, one of the conclusions remained constantly in my mind: this unpredictability was something that needed to be changed, at least when it comes to the way I conduct my legal activity. You may ask why was I so bothered by all this, but the answer is very simple in my case: the transparency of the lawyer’s fees is the first form of respect that I can show for the person who is considering contracting my legal services. No matter the type of expense, having a price predictability allows us to make plans about our expenses and to prioritize them in the best possible way. This is a valid assumption in any circumstances, even more nowadays when the whole world is entangled in a pandemic and economic turmoil.
This mindset was correlated with my determination to start providing legal services almost exclusively in a remote manner. In addition, the results of the little experiment brought even more weight to my decision to change the entire structure of the legal fees. During the entire restructuring process that I conducted, the number one principle upon which the fees were built was transparency. And, of course, it was equally important to reflect this principle into the fees content.
Therefore, I’ve created a project that I deeply love and nurture: AM LAW. Here, you won’t find a general description of the fees that does not actually mention an amount. Instead, you’ll find four types of subscriptions, each one of them having a fixed, totally transparent fee. Three of these four subscriptions have the fees set on a completely different structure than most other law firms’ fees, each one of them offering details about the type and length of the legal services provided and, most importantly, about the fixed price. Having a transparent, fixed price to relate to, no matter what their legal needs are, it’s a very important detail that could help the people worried about the uncertainty of the legal fees they’ll have to pay. And most importantly, has the ability to help prevent a certain restraint from seeking professional legal advice.
Looking at this problem from a wider angle, apparently there are much more people in this situation than my personal survey revealed. According to the results of a market study conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority from the UK regarding the transparency for solicitors’ legal fees, six out of ten people believe that professional legal advice is not an affordable option. That’s 60% of people that might not seek professional legal advice although their situation requires it. In case you’re wondering if that’s a lot, trust me, it’s a huge percent with extremely important effects, the most important being the real danger of a lack of access to justice. To try to counteract these effects, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), one of the four main regulators from the UK on law practice, recommends to the UK law firms to have the prices published on their website or, at least, available on request. SRA conclusion, with which I completely agree, is that the legal consumers need to be able to make informed decisions. To substantiate, a truly informed decision cannot be made as long as there is no total transparency regarding the lawyers’ fees. Hence, the transparent, fixed fees approach of AM LAW.
Analysing the early stage of this new project, surely leaves me with a happy feeling regarding the transparency path towards which I steered my legal fees structure. One extremely important contributor was the feedback received from the previous and the new clients, which is positive and appreciative. This leaves me satisfied that my action helped, even if only a little, lifting the veil of uncertainty that reigns over the lawyers’ fees.
What about you, dear reader? What do you think about this approach regarding the lawyers’ fees? Your feedback is always welcomed, so I invite you to let me know your opinion here!
Thank you for your time!