Sometimes, clients will ask why New Jersey Divorce Attorneys such as myself generally only offer hourly billing. “Surely it can’t kill you to offer a creative billing solution,” they imply. “What about a contingent fee? Or at the very least, a flat rate fee?”
I want to address why contingent fees are never offered and also why flat rate billing is rare in New Jersey family matters. But first, I want to make an admission.
I too dislike the billable hour. Most New Jersey divorce attorneys that I have spoken to regarding the subject feel the same way.
So, if there is all this disdain for it, then why is the billable hour in New Jersey divorce cases as persistent as bronchitis in winter?
First, let’s deal with contingent fees. This is the fee arrangement whereby an attorney takes a %. Personal injury cases provide the most common contingent fee arrangements, but a contingent fee can also be utilized in collection law, tax assessment appeals, and a host of other practice areas. For obvious reasons, however, a contingent fee doesn’t make as much sense in divorce cases. Most importantly, the New Jersey Court rules specifically bar contingent fees in New Jersey divorce cases.
Flat Rate Billing
Many clients would probably welcome a flat fee in New Jersey divorce cases. Cost certainty is often prized. A flat rate system is where an attorney is paid (usually upfront), a set amount for the entire case. For example, I could charge a client $10,000.00 for a divorce case. In a flat rate system, whether the case settled within a month or went all the way to trial, I would be paid the same $10,000.00. Many real estate transactions utilize flat rate billing.
The problem is that New Jersey divorce cases are so fact-sensitive. They are also people sensitive. Some New Jersey divorce cases take only ten-twenty hours of work and others take hundreds or even thousands of hours of labor. A New Jersey divorce attorney who only utilized flat rate billing would likely go bankrupt. Moreover, there would be less motivation for the clients to settle a case.
Therefore some (perhaps even most) divorce attorneys will not offer flat rate billing under any circumstances. Other attorneys will offer flat rate fees for specific portions of a family law action. For instance, a flat rate may be offered for a specific post-judgment motion, a specific hearing, or a domestic violence issue. It’s important to talk with your attorney to see what types of billing options they offer.
I’m not writing this post to say: “look at us poor New Jersey Divorce attorneys.” I’m sure nobody feels sorry for us and our billing problems. But I do think it’s important for clients to understand that divorce is simply an area of the law where billing is difficult, all the way around. The billable hour is really the most equitable way to–in the majority of cases–determine the cost of legal services.
That said, there are always ways to improve anything.
Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:
If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options. You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.