Advertising by Virginia lawyers is tricky stuff. The Virginia Bar Association has very strict rules (and a handy checklist!)1 about what, exactly, its members can and cannot say in their blogs, with advertisements, and on diner menus. First insider’s tip: avoid lawyers who advertise on diner menus. This comes up because most of the lawyers who routinely solicit business by means of mayonnaise-stained papers underneath diner’s gaping mouths are likely to offer “flat fee” divorces. What are the real costs of this type of fee schedule, and does the Virginia ham dinner special come with rice pudding?
How a Flat-fee Divorce Attorney Works … from the Lawyer’s Perspective
A flat-fee attorney is a risk-taker. The lawyer will make a quick estimate of how simple or complicated your case is and how much billable time it will probably take, have you sign a flat fee agreement and then work to complete your divorce within those predicted hours. If your lawyer completes the divorce in less time than expected, the lawyer profits; if the job takes more time than allotted, the lawyer loses money.
Lawyers seldom lose money. This is why the “flat fee” aims to be more than sufficient to cover just about every contingency that may crop up while working on your case. The fine print—most lawyers absolutely adore fine print—for most flat fee divorces has a few caveats:
- Uncontested cases only
- Flat fee … plus court costs
- No property issues to litigate
- No child or spousal support issues to explore and resolve
This is very much like the diner’s early-bird special available on alternate Tuesdays for patrons 57 to 61 years old from 3:45 p.m. to 4:10 p.m., so long as you brought the coupon. You have to jump through a lot of hoops and give up a lot of rights to get either the $395 divorce or the $3.95 liver and onions.
And of course, we can’t ignore that just getting a client in the door for “the special” will often lead to that client spending much, much more. Who orders liver and onions without mashed potatoes and an ice cold diet coke?
Quantum Meruit: Getting What You Paid For
Latin for “what one has earned,” this means your attorney can expect a reasonable sum of money for the work done to make your divorce a reality. This is a handy way to pay off one attorney who does not finish your case and move on to another, possibly better attorney. The flat-fee attorney is, in fact, entitled to payment for the amount of work put in on your case. This is a polite and fancy way to say, “cut your losses” and get a much, much better divorce attorney who bills by the hour and works hard for the time he or she spends on your very important case.
Finding a Cheap Lawyer … from the Client’s Perspective
Everyone loves a bargain; we cannot quibble about that. We like to clip the 10 percent off coupon for Wednesday dinner specials, too, but with legal matters, you are not doing yourself any favors to seek a discount. What gets overlooked? What corners get cut? What if unexpected issues arise?
From your perspective, the bargain lawyer is usually no bargain, because the flat-fee divorce comes with so many ifs, buts, excepts, and howevers that you will pay a kind of sweat equity by saving a nickel. You will sweat over filings, court dates, the competence of your attorney, even little nagging things like, “Will I ever get to see my kids again?”
From your wife’s perspective, you will do her an immense (and expensive) favor to use a flat-fee attorney while she hires someone a bit more…professional. You will be showing up for minor league tryouts while she is climbing to the mound in the World Series. You will be choking down the hash house chili while she dines on fresh roasted branzino from Enoteca Sogno. (Are you getting these metaphors? You went for cheap and got cheap; she went for quality and got quality.)
A Better Way: Hire a Reputable Divorce Lawyer
Why would you go to someone who bills by the hour and fraction of an hour? Surely we have all seen those lawyer shows on television where the partners each bill 90 hours a week! Yes, we have seen those shows, and just as those are fictional faux fluff; the diner on Two Broke Girls is not real, either.
Real lawyers with real law offices are guided by ethics (thanks, Virginia Bar Association!) that do not allow them to book the same 15 minutes of work to six different clients. They do, however, bill you for actual, helpful, essential services:
- Collecting depositions
- Filing motions and subpoenas
- Preparing properly written legal documents
- Interviewing witnesses and conducting investigations
These are important steps in almost every Virginia divorce. You cannot afford to risk your legal proceeding with a law firm that cuts corners to stay under its flat fee budget.
When you are ready to work with top-tier attorneys, call The Firm for Men at 757-383-9184 or contact us online. We do not provide flat fees; we guarantee our fees; we work to completion; we win cases.