Hourly Billing Versus Flat Fee Billing: Fees Uncomplicated


Legal Fees can add up and they can add up fast. When searching for a lawyer most lawyers will have their own fee structures. Some will charge one flat fee that covers all services, with some exceptions, and other lawyers may offer a deposit or a retainer with hourly billing after that. In family law matters, contingency fees in NC are generally NOT allowed. There are a couple exceptions: retroactive child support and equitable distribution, but if your attorney offers you a contingency fee arrangement for legal services for alimony, spousal support, current child support, custody, etc. they are violating the Rules governing attorneys and you need to look out! A contingency fee is where there is no charge up front and the lawyer will take a percentage from whatever is awarded at the time of judgment.

That being said, your two primary options are generally a flat fee or hourly billing. Most clients will be shocked by the amount quoted for a flat fee and want instead to engage in an hourly fee contract. This option may seem less expensive at the outset but those hourly fees add up quickly, especially when your spouse is being very difficult. You will be charged a fee every time you make a call to your lawyer's office, every time they call you, every time your lawyer drafts a letter on your behalf, works on your case, looks at your case, mails out a letter, makes a copy, sends you an e-mail, etc. It is not uncommon for the bill in an hourly billing case to surpass what would have been charged in the flat fee contract in the first month alone. You need to ask these three important questions when determining if a flat fee is a better option for you then hourly billing? 1). Is my spouse going to be difficult? 2). Am I going to need additional time and attention during this difficult time? 3). Are my finances limited? If the answer to those three questions is yes, then you need to engage in a flat fee contract. It may seem more expensive at the outset but it will likely save you thousands in the long run. You will have the security that no matter how messy your case gets your fees are covered and your attorney won't fire you because you can't put down another $10,000 as a deposit to cover remaining legal fees. The last thing you will need when the going gets really tough is worrying about how you will pay your lawyer and whether you will still have representation come the day of hearing because you decided it would be cheaper to go with an hourly contract and now you have run out of money.

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