What is the Difference Between Hourly, Fixed Cost, and Flat Fee Attorney Billing?

In time of divorce, we always think about cost
In time of divorce, we always think about cost
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you’re considering divorce, you probably have a lot of questions, And one of the biggest might be, “How much is this going to cost me?” The short answer is that the cost of getting a divorce can vary wildly. So let’s answer the question.

If you understand a little about the different types of attorney’s fee structures, you will be better prepared when you meet with a divorce lawyer. You also might be able to save yourself some money.

How Do Attorneys Set Their Fees? Many Factors are Involved.

Texas Law states that attorneys may charge fees that are “reasonable.” But what that means in the real world is not always clear. In fact, attorneys have great leeway in setting their rates.

However, there are a few sensible guidelines an attorney may use to set his or her fee. These include:

  • Experience and training;
  • Rates of comparative local attorneys;
  • Complexity of the case;
  • Reputation and consumer demand;

In addition, metropolitan-area attorneys usually have higher fees than ones in rural areas. Also, if the case has an unusual time urgency, the lawyer may charge more.

Attorney fees depend on many factors including their experience, reputation, training, and the city you reside.
Attorney fees depend on many factors including their experience, reputation, training, and the city you reside in.

The American Bar Association (ABA) states, “The most common billing method is to charge a set amount for each hour of time the lawyer works on your case.”  

Attorneys who use hourly billing usually charge in increments of 1/10th of an hour. In other words, they bill you for every six minutes of work.

Because of the factors mentioned above, it’s hard to identify a “standard” hourly rate.  For example, a lawyer working on his own in a small community might charge $100 an hour, while an attorney working for a large firm in a major city might charge $400 an hour for the same case.

Of course, this can make it hard to do an “apples to apples” price comparison. The ABA makes another point to consider: “More experienced lawyers tend to charge more per hour than those with less experience—but they also may take less time to do the same legal work.”

Something else to be aware of: Lawyers often charge more for time spent in the courtroom than for time spent doing research and preparation.

“Flat fee” means that the attorney sets a rate for the case. For example, if you wanted to have a simple will prepared, the lawyer can tell you his or her flat fee for this work. And once the lawyer and client have agreed to work together, the lawyer can prepare the invoice in a snap.

Flat fees are not based on how many hours are spent on the case, or on the outcome. They also are called fixed cost billing.

Sean Lynch use flat fee billing because we believe it has many advantages. First, it simplifies our billing process. But much more important, it takes a lot of stress off our clients. When people come into our Fort Worth law office, we know they already have a lot on their minds. With our flat fee structure, they can know upfront how much the divorce will cost. It is one less thing for them to have to worry about—and we think it is a big thing.

We also believe flat fee billing works very well for divorce cases. Be aware, however, that it is not useful in all types of law. For example, lawyers who handle complex criminal and corporate cases rarely use flat fees. This is because there are too many uncertainties involved. It’s just too easy for the attorney to end up doing much more work than he or she originally billed.

Are Hourly and Flat Fee the Only Types of Attorney Billing?

Divorce attorneys use either hourly or flat fee billing. There are a few other structures:

Contingency: In this arrangement, the client pays only if the attorney wins the case. The lawyer then takes a percentage of the settlement paid. Contingency fees are more common in personal injury cases, such as automobile accidents and medical malpractice cases.

Retainer: You have probably heard this term mentioned in the movies or on TV. It simply means that a client agrees to pay a sum of money up front to secure the attorney’s services. As the lawyer works on various cases, he or she uses this fund for payments.

Pro bono: This means that the lawyer does not charge the client a fee but they may be compensated from other sources. As you might guess, divorce lawyers rarely work on contingency or retainer.

Hourly and Flat Fee Billing are Only Part of the Attorney’s Costs

In addition to the fees paid directly to your attorney, you will be required to pay other costs. For example, you may have to pay for the cost of filing the lawsuit, for serving the divorce papers to your spouse, or for document delivery services.

We encourage you to be sure to ask if you will be responsible for any other fees. And regardless of whether your attorney bills hourly or with a flat fee, we encourage you to make sure he or she gives you a contract to sign.

Why Are Attorney’s Fees So Expensive?

As with most professional services the cost of your attorney is dependent on his or her history of success and experience.
As with most professional services, the cost of your attorney is dependent in part on his or her experience and history of success.

While fixed-cost attorney billing saves you money, lawyers are still expensive. Did you ever wonder why? Here is a brief explanation.

First, law school is expensive—very expensive. After graduation, lawyers must pay for professional development courses. 

Lawyers also have to pay for routine operating expenses, such as office rent, equipment, and administrative staff. 

Also, attorneys tend to charge more as they become more experienced. This knowledge can help them analyze a case quickly and identify potential issues. It also can help them calculate the cost of your case, and perhaps save you some money. In short, practicing law is a lot like practicing surgery: Education and experience count for a lot. 

What Can I Do to Reduce My Attorney Fees?

The ABA has very simple advice for people hiring an attorney. They suggest, “Answer all your lawyer’s questions fully and honestly. It will save time and help your lawyer do a better job.”

If your attorney is billing you hourly, you can also ask if there are any clerical tasks you can perform. For example, you might make photocopies, or deliver some documents.

There are two other simple things you can do to potentially reduce your costs. First, promptly provide your divorce attorney with all the documentation he or she needs or requests. Remember, if the lawyer is billing hourly, you pay for each minute of time—including time spent making duplicate requests.  

Second, don’t do anything to jeopardize your case. Perhaps you’re considering quietly selling some of your property, or moving out of state. This just makes your attorney’s job harder—and can add to your costs.

Don’t Pick a Divorce Attorney Based Solely on the Cost

What is the Difference Between Hourly, Flat Fee, and Fixed Cost Attorney Billing? In at least one way, the answer is, “Not much.” Divorce attorneys are like any other product or service: You get what you pay for. So while you can buy a car for $1,000, you shouldn’t expect it to perform on a level comparable to a $40,000 vehicle.

TexasLawHelp.com has some very smart advice for people shopping for a divorce attorney. They write, “Remember the most expensive lawyer is not necessarily the best one for you. Nor is a ‘bargain’ rate always a great deal. Look for the best balance of experience and cost.”

Our Law Provides Experience and Award-winning Service at a Great Price

Attorney Sean Lynch understands that fixed cost legal services are a good value to Tarrant County clients.
Attorney Sean Lynch understands that fixed cost legal services are a good value to Tarrant County clients.

The attorneys at Sean Lynch, PLLC, offer some of the most affordable and effective legal representation in Fort Worth and Arlington. We are upfront about our pricing, so you know in advance what you’ll pay in your divorce case. And we ALWAYS have your best interests at heart.

If you need help contact our family law practice today to schedule a no-cost consultation with a top-rated attorney in Fort Worth.

Our Reviews

Sean Lynch Family Law

City Center II, 301 Commerce Street Suite 2900, Fort Worth

3.9 72 reviews

  • lauradoesstuff andmore ★★★★★ 6 months ago
    Hired Mr. Lynch to represent me in a divorce case. He handled it professionally and answered every question I had during the whole process quickly. He got the court to agree with what I wanted and I am now divorced. Would recommend him … read more to friends and family.
  • Catherine Jones ★★★★★ 3 months ago
    Sean was extraordinary, patient and helpful throughout my lengthy and tedious divorce process. He provided a balance of supportive advocacy and pragmatism in his advice, and helped ensure the outcome was to everyone's benefit. I hope … read more to never need a family law attorney again, but if I do, he'll be the one I call.
  • Hawkeye Roofing & Restoration ★★★★★ 9 months ago
    Sean did a really great job in getting my divorce done. He does care about dads! It would have went a lot smoother if it wasn’t for the other party being difficult but overall I’m extremely happy and would highly recommend.

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