Why do Lawyers Cost So Much?

Anyone who has ever had legal problems (or the need for legal advice to avoid problems) knows that lawyers are EXPENSIVE!? Well, wait... are they really? Are clients not actually getting value for their dollar? Let's look into this more.

First of all, the lawyer is not the one who created the problem. They are trying to SOLVE IT for you.  This generally involves not just taking the issue out of your hands in the short term and running interference for you now, but resolving the issue on a permanent basis.  Lawyers do much more than just put a problem "out of sight, out of mind."  They are FIXERS, and on a permanent basis, too!

Yes, some lawyers are more expensive than others.  But is it actually true that the more you pay the more you get?  Is it really true that the higher-priced lawyers are the better lawyers? If I were to answer this question personally, the answer would be NO.  A number of other groups have evaluated the question of how lawyers' services are priced, and the reading would surprise most consumers.

Continue reading to find out the five reasons why my services are priced the way they are! 


The Stress and Time-Suck Factor.

Law is not glamorous.  As this post entitled "The Truth Behind Attorney Fees" emphasizes--this job comes with either lots of hours or lots of extra stress.  I would say, in my experience, it's both, frankly: lots of hours AND lots of extra stress.  Not all attorneys are good at managing both time and stress.  Some of us are good at it, or even excel at managing both at one point in time, only to fall apart the next week (the next day, or even the next hour).  We are only human after all!  I find to-do lists extremely helpful myself... but that's just me.  

In general, longer hours worked = more money charged.  And more stressful cases =  more money charged.  My flat rate cases are not usually the most stressful.  For example, I know what it takes to do a DUI after supervising younger prosecutors and training tons of DA's how to prosecute those cases.  I once tried a DUI with ten minutes' notice.  I didn't even have a jacket with me that day.  I feel comfortable offering a flat rate on those cases because I know what is expected of me.  I know how to manage client's expectations, and I know generally how much time it will take.  On the flip-side, if I do not know exactly how long a case will take or how much stress it will create to handle it; I'm likely to charge hourly.  And my hourly rate is not exactly cheap.  But I offer discounts, and I try to do a modest means practice, even going so far as to offer low-pay slow-pay alternatives for people in need.  Here's the thing: I want to help you. But I can't do it for free.  Let's work something out. 

And really, let's be honest--this job and all the training we have done as lawyers has basically taught us how to be experts at FIGHTING.  Who enjoys fighting everything, every single day, with everyone they deal with?  Nobody.  It sucks.  This "Time/Stress Sentiment" is best summed up by this article on Above the Law
Honestly, how many people even want to be a big time, senior rainmaking partner at a large law firm? From a certain point of view, it’s a terrible job! You work insane hours (and you have worked insane hours for most of your adult life). Even if you are intellectually stimulated by the work, it’s not “fun.” It’s not playing centerfield for the Yankees or directing pornography. It’s not a barrel of laughs. And despite the fact that you are relatively rich and probably at or near the very top of your field, you have to spend all day talking to clients who disrespect you, make more money than you, and act like you’re the a$hole in the room who is stealing their money. 

Who the hell wants to do that all of their life? Well, you have to pay people a LOT of money to make them want to do that.

Why are lawyers so expensive? Because it’s a crappy job that most people don’t want to do! Sanitation workers get paid more than teachers because most people would rather deal with trashy children than old trash.

And if you really don’t like the cost, you can always go find a cheaper lawyer.

Clients Expect to Pay More for Better Lawyers.

And what consumers should realize is that you get what you want sometimes. Meaning, if you want to hire a younger, go-getter attorney, with not a lot of experience, you can do so for cheap, usually just for beer money, but they will need to spend more time on your case just spinning their wheels.  And if you want a senior partner in a large law firm to work on your case, and devote not only tons of his/her time to your problem but to hand-holding you as well, you can but you're going to pay for it.  What you also should realize, too though, is that that senior partner has five other attorneys working under him, a staff of paralegals and secretaries, and even a legal intern available for peanuts on the dollar.  You are paying this high-priced firm, and I guarantee you that senior partner is not devoting personal attention to your case until it's time to meet with you face to face.  He or she has grunts for that.  I know, I was a grunt for years. 

I've devoted myself to solo practice in part because I despise what's known in the legal industry as #biglaw.  I walked out of a second year law school interview with a large, national, firm mid-interview because the two junior associates they sent to campus to conduct the interviews left such a bad taste in my mouth that I wanted nothing to do with it! I turned them down and cancelled my other big-firm interviews right then and there.  Even mid-sized firms have presented problems for someone like me. I'm extremely creative. I work odd hours. I get a brilliant idea in the middle of the night, and I act on it right then and go into work later in the morning. I think best behind a coffee mug on the deck or at a coffee shop, not behind my desk.  Hell, I take pictures of my #officedogs for Instagram and love it, and I create marketing ideas based on the hashtag #notyouraveragelawyer.  That's a totally apt description! #Biglaw won't have me, and I won't have it any other way! 

So, not only are you paying a big law firm partner tons of money, and he/she is not even the one working up your case every step of the way... but you are also paying for him/her to pay his bills. In other words, OVERHEAD.  You are paying the salaries of the folks working under him/her. You are paying for the firm to rent the copier they use profusely by printing every piece of paper ever sent to them (because lawyers document everything).  Hell, you even pay for the PAPER!  You pay for the rent, the malpractice insurance, the utilities.  EVERYTHING costs money.  

Lastly, the partners, the associates, and anyone with a law degree really, all of them have billable hour requirements.  These are set at a certain number of hours that they work on any given day at their standard rate in order to "keep the firm afloat."  It's really crazy! Firms usually bill in tenth of an hour increments.  So, an email that takes 2 min. to send is billed at 6 min. because that's the smallest increment.  This is standard in the legal industry, and something I actually do still utilize in my practice today.  It's just impossible to track every single minute of your day!  Here's the thing about a bigger firm, and even mid-sized firms, they all have to meet a quota, and often more than 40 hours/week is billed.  It's like a cop doing a speed trap to ticket more people at the end of the month or quarter!  They care more about meeting their quota sometimes than they do about your case. The quota is necessary for them to keep their jobs, but your case probably isn't.

So, maybe you should look into a firm or a lawyer that has no or little overhead and no billable hour requirements (or at least reasonable ones--not more than 40 hours/wk). If a firm can keep it's costs down, surely it can help you afford your own legal costs!  A firm or a lawyer practicing with little to no overhead is more likely to be able to give you a discount if you cannot afford their fees.  After all, they don't need to fire someone if they can't afford the underling's salary.  A firm or a lawyer practicing with little to no overhead clearly knows how to budget!  They can help you budget your issue too!!

It Is Not Easy to Become a Lawyer.

Lawyers went to law school for a reason.  My reason: I wanted to help people.  But it sucked because I had 4 years of undergrad, and then 3 years of law school.  That's SEVEN YEARS of under-employment or unemployment in some cases.  I managed to do it with no debt for the first four years, but the ABA doesn't let law students work for their first year of law school (why, I have no idea... talk about outdated BS that needs to change).  So, imagine being forced to be unemployed for a whole year! How do you eat? How do you pay your rent?  Most lawyers have experienced that fear firsthand.  It sucks! It shapes their mentality for many years to come.  

Furthermore, there are regulations in place that require the use of lawyers to handle legal issues.  In other words, lawyers can charge more simply because they ARE lawyers.  If you try to practice law in a state where you are not a licensed attorney, you are engaging in the unauthorized practice of law and you can be charged with a crime, fined, and punished accordingly.  It's like a doctor, really--you wouldn't try to do your own surgery, or go to the guy down the street for medical prescriptions, so why would you try to handle your own case or ask a friend of a friend's paralegal mom for legal help? 

Ultimately, law firms and lawyers can charge more because consumers are afraid and don't educate themselves, though, as Above the Law states again here.  Lawyers know the law, and understand the law, and can generally avoid the most critical errors.  But consumers don't know the law, don't understand the law, and if they make a critical error, there's not a lot to be done when they screw it up. 

If clients are educated, they will dig in and ask important questions to be sure that they are paying for the actual important work and not mindless paper-pushing. If consumers know the difference between quality legal advice and just busy work, then they can make intelligent decisions about when to pay higher fees and when to go shopping for a cheaper lawyer.  But, for clients it's frankly easier to just throw money at the problem expecting to get a better lawyer than it is to take the risk of finding low-cost solutions to their legal problems.  

It's not too expensive to hire just any lawyer. But it can be expensive to hire a great, experienced lawyer, who will dedicate his/her personal attention to your case.

The Five Reasons I Charge What I Do.

    1. My fee structure can vary from flat-rate, to hourly with a retainer, to hourly without a retainer.  I assess a case to determine how much legal research is involved, how much drafting is involved, and how much active negotiation with the opposing party is involved.  These three things generally cost more because they demand the most time.  If there is a lot of these three things involved in your case, then the time-suck factor comes into play and hourly with a retainer is likely to be the quoted rate. 
    2. My fees go up when I go to Court. Going to Court to represent you involves making representations to the Judge, the Court staff, the other lawyers, the witnesses, and the jury, even.  This is my credibility; this is my livelihood. I can do legal research in my PJ's with the #officedogs, but I can't leave my hair undone and no makeup to go to Court.  I have to prepare legal arguments and analyze the facts of your case extensively to go to Court.  I literally watch everything that I say and every gesture that I make when I'm at Court.  I have to put on a persona and act the lawyer part. It's high-stress, high-drama, and therefore demands high-pay. 
    3. My fees are not those of a newbie lawyer.  I'm experienced.  I charge more (but not above average) because I have spent years becoming fluent in the areas of law in which I practice. I have taken continuing education courses like crazy to stay abreast of the issues as they evolve (marijuana law in Colorado much?). This is not easy to do, and in this case--you are paying more to get more.  An experienced attorney can ask for a higher rate than a first year associate, and they should. I can pick up a criminal case with little to no extra research because I've handled them before, whereas a newer attorney will have to do tons of research to educate themselves just to get to the baseline where I start.
    4. My fees are lower than other "prestigious" lawyers.  I am solo. I am #smalllaw. I have no overhead.  I have no paralegal or secretarial staff, and I don't charge for every mundane thing.  I run a virtual law office meaning you have access to me nearly 100% of the time via email, phone and text (unless I'm in Court or meetings). And I run my firm nearly paperless. I can afford to be cheaper because I run a streamlined practice on a budget.
    5. Mostly, I charge what I do so that I can tell a client what this lawyer on Lawyerist.com tells his clients, "Okay, you don't have to worry about this any more. Your problems are now my problems."  I will be there every step of the way. I will tell you what we should worry about and what we shouldn't. I'll keep to myself that your case is causing me to lose sleep because I don't want to worry you. I manage the entire case for you.  After going through legal issues, sometimes that is like managing your entire LIFE for you.  And I'm happy to do it.  I would literally walk 1,000 miles to fall down at your door... I am that dedicated to my clients.  I went to law school to help people, after all.