|Message From The President
Rule 4-.5 Fees and Costs for Legal Services
We are all subject to rules regulating what we can charge our own clients for the services we provide. An attorney violates the Florida Bar Rules, if he or she charges or collects an illegal, prohibited or clearly excessive fee or cost.
About fifty percent of my practice involves clients paying an hourly rate for our law firm’s services. Although I have read and heard for years hourly rates for lawyers’ services are going the way of the Dodo bird, I still do not see the end in sight. Flat fees are the most frequently discussed alternative to hourly billing. The inexactness of even the best educated pre-litigation guess could leave either the clients or the lawyer in the lurch. In most of my family law practice or commercial litigation, time records would have to be kept anyway, because legal fees are frequently an issue.
Flat fees certainly have an appeal. If, under the contract with the firm, the fees are deemed earned when paid, they do not need to be deposited in trust. Any non-refundable fee needs to be confirmed in writing 4-1.5(e) and explained to the client. Under the comment section of 4-1.5, it is suggested a lawyer should when appropriate, discuss alternative billing methods with the client.
The comment also states that “general overhead should be accounted for in a lawyer’s fee whether the lawyer charges hourly, flat or contingent fees. Costs for copying, faxing, long distance telephone and computerized research may be passed tot he client,” The management of income and expenses was not addressed in any law school class offered at the University of Florida, when I was a law student. I learned the hard way that expensive office space and marble floors come at a high price and need to be paid for in good and bad income months.
Those of us who own our practices know full well that operating a law firm is an expensive proposition. Experienced and qualified employees allow us tom eet our clients’ demands for services. Those same employees represent a significant expense in salary and benefits. The non-employee expenses are also there month after month. An owner of a law firm is the last person paid after all the other practice costs are paid out.
Many lawyers in trouble with the Florida Bar have economic issues first that devolve into ethical problems. The Florida Bar offers practice aids and CLE on office management.