At Backes & Backes, we want to make the cost of our representation transparent and predictable. Our fees are guided by the value of our services to our clients.
Attorney's fees do not have to be shrouded in mystery, and clients do not need to enter a legal representation without any real idea of what costs to expect. Still, most law firms are reluctant to give any information about their fee structure, and even more reluctant to say what a legal matter is actually going to cost. Typically, fees are discussed first near the end of the initial consultation, and then only in the vaguest terms. With the exception of contingent fee matters and occasionally matters handled for a flat fee, all that the client is told is an hourly rate.
There's nothing wrong with retaining a lawyer on the basis of an hourly rate, and even now most of our clients prefer to work on an hourly basis. Depending on the experience of the attorney and the nature of the matter, our rates range from $325 per hour to $525 per hour.
We think it's important for clients to understand that, just because two firms have lawyers with the same hourly rate, the client should not expect the same cost or the same value. If a client hired 10 different law firms to do the same work, all at the same hourly rate, in all likelihood there would be a very substantial spread in the final billing of the firms. Our experience is that the difference between two firms working on the same case is often 400% or more.
An hourly rate creates the illusion that a potential client can compare the cost of different law firms, when in fact a lawyer billing $475 per hour may end up charging the client less than another charging $275 per hour. The client's real concern is not what the lawyer says his or her billable rate is. The client's concern is how much the representation is going to cost. The client needs to be able to weigh the cost of the representation against the value the law firm will provide. This requires a level of transparency and good faith in billing practices that few law firms are willing to commit to.
Our experience is that there's really no such thing as a "cookie cutter" case. Every client has unique concerns and every situation presents unique challenges and opportunities. This makes it difficult to publish a fair fee schedule; what might be fair for one client might not be for another. That said, at Backes & Backes we look to our experience to help build a fair fee agreement with our clients and to give our clients the information they need to understand how much a representation will cost. Once we understand a client's needs, through experience we can give the client a realistic sense of what costs the client is facing.
Recognizing that each client matter is unique, we cannot publish a truly fair ledger of our charges. To give some insight into how our experience will inform our advice as to how much a matter will cost, we can report some of sample fees for various matters:
- Estate Litigation: A beneficiary under a Will sought to challenge the handling of the estate by the executor. After 8 months of limited litigation, successfully settled the case. Fee: $17,500.
- Estate Litigation: An executor successfully defended a lawsuit brought by a disinherited heir. Firm retained as trial counsel after client dismissed prior attorneys. Settled at beginning of trial. Fee: $52,000.
- Estate Litigation: Substantially disinherited children brought action to set aside a complex trust and estate plan, on the grounds of undue influence. Estate value in excess of $4.5M, settled during initial discovery. Fee: $56,000.
- Estate Litigation: Disinherited heir brought action to set aside a Will on the grounds of undue influence. Case fully litigated, concluding in 4-day trial. Fee: $115,000.
- Estate Litigation: An executor successfully defended a lawsuit alleging undue influence and seeking to set aside the Will. Successfully protected client's inheritance, with a value over $6M. Fee in excess of $140,000.
- Fiduciary Litigation: Retained less than one week before commencement of trial to represent client sued for breach of fiduciary duty. Obtained 30 day continuance to prepare for trial, and conducted 3-day bench trial to successful verdict. Fee: $37,000.
- Estate Planning: Married couple with young children and assets of less than $100,000.00 required reciprocal disclaimer Wills, powers of attorney, and health care directives. Fee: $1,200.
- Estate Planning: High asset married couple required sophisticated estate and tax planning, together with powers of attorney and health care directives. Fee: $4,400.
- Estate Administration: A decedent left an estate consisting of only her home and a small bank account, with her son named in her Will as both executor and sole beneficiary. Fee: $4,000.
- Estate Administration: A decedent died without a Will, survived by her husband and son and an estate value of approximately $1,000,000. Matter included valuation issues relating to a business. Fee: $8,250.
- Estate Administration: Contentious estate administration involving assets of more than $1,500,000, numerous beneficiaries and complex tax issues. Fee: $36,500.
Backes & Backes does not seek to be the area's cheapest law firm. We aim to provide the greatest value, the greatest benefit to our clients for the costs incurred. Our fee structures respect the intelligence of our clients, and we work hard to make the real cost of each representation as transparent and predictable as possible.