Here are five considerations you might give when it comes to attorney fee arrangements. This isn't about getting a better deal this is about trying to get a fee arrangement that best fits your financial and legal situation. Lawyering is a lot harder than it may sometimes look and attorney fees are generally well earned.
1. Hourly Rate: This is the legal industry's old standard in which the attorney charges an hourly rate for her services. A possible downside is the billing may exceed what you thought it would take to complete the project. Consider requesting an estimate upfront and insisting on detailed monthly statements.
2. Contingency Fee: Here, the attorneys' fee is calculated as a percentage of the amount that is collected by way of a settlement or judgment. A possible downside is that an early resolution may result in your attorney realizing a large return without, in your mind, perhaps having undertaken a lot of work. Consider a sliding scale contingency fee arrangement. (Also note that in some circumstances, applicable law may limit when contingency fees can be used and may regulate permitted percentages.)
3. Blended Hourly And Contingency Fee: With a blended fee arrangement, the attorney charges a lower hourly rate and is entitled to some portion of the recovery. A possible downside is that the "blend" may result in you having paid more in fees in instances where a long running litigation is ultimately favorable. Consider requesting estimates of litigation length.
4. Flat Rate: In this instance, an attorney agrees to accept a set sum for undertaking a service. A possible downside is that if it is a routine project for your attorney, you may be paying him more than what it would have cost using an hourly rate. Consider simply asking your attorney what is the most cost-efficient approach.
5. Retainer: Although I have never seen this fee arrangement in practice, I understand that the client regularly pays an agreed-upon amount of money in return for the attorney handling all of its legal work. A possible downside may be the difficulty in bringing parity between the fee paid and the work handled. Consider scheduling a downstream date after the retention to analyze the relationship between the fee being paid and the work being accomplished.
At the end of the day, attorney fee arrangements are contracts and you should throw as much creativity and enthusiasm into the contract with your admiralty attorney as you would any new charter or towage agreement.
Underway and making way.
By John Fulweiler
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