A Word About Fees
Many potential clients analyze lawyers by their hourly rate. However, hourly fees often are not a good predictor of the total fees. Most large firms have a fee structure where multiple lawyers work on each case. Each of these lawyers must bill a minimum number of hours to remain employed at the firm. Often these firms have a large minimum fee required even to open a file.
Better indicators of your final bill are the firm’s overhead, number of partners, and the experience of the attorney(s) doing most of the work on your case. If the firm has large downtown class A high-rise offices, many employees who do not bill, and many partners, you can expect a large fee. If the attorneys working on your case are associates with little experience in your type of case, expect to pay for their learning experience.
At TL, we attempt to maximize efficiency through the latest technology and well-thought out procedures. We attempt to minimize overhead without sacrificing quality.
Tollefsen Law has radically altered the standard business model for law firms in order to minimize the cost of legal services. The normal law firm is built like a pyramid with associates at the bottom required to bill 200 hours or more a month to provide large incomes to partners atop the pyramid. Associates must make partner in 6 years or so or find other work. The standard law firm business model results in higher fees because inexperienced lawyers at the bottom of the pyramid provide most of the revenue for the firm. The standard law firm attempts to impress its clients with its success by renting the most expensive offices and furnishing them lavishly. The clients are asked to believe the best law firms have the most expensive offices.
Tollefsen Law has no minimum billing requirement and attempts to provide maximum service at the lowest reasonable price through use of the latest technology, management efficiencies and lower overhead.
Tollefsen Law has no minimum billing requirement and attempts to provide maximum service at the lowest reasonable price through use of the latest technology, management efficiencies and lower overhead (see Technology and other reasons to hire a smaller firm.) Our lawyers are distinguished experienced professionals.
Small and medium sized businesses often make the mistake of not including legal fees in their annual budgets. They live with their legal mistakes and hope that none are disastrous. Poorly drafted contracts, legal errors, and failure to have professional review of business practices create hidden costs that can be avoided.
Regularly reviewing your business contracts and plans with your lawyer can reap many benefits. If your lawyer knows your business, he or she can keep you updated on new laws affecting your business. If you find yourself in need of legal services, the cost is likely to be lower because your attorney does not have to learn your business before analyzing the legal issues.
Basing the decision to hire an attorney solely on the hourly rate is unwise. Some attorneys work faster than others. Some have more experience and can obtain the result with less effort. Our fee structure is flexible and there are no minimum billing requirements. We work on fixed fee, hourly and hybrid fee arrangements. We use legal assistants and paralegals to lower the overall cost. Staff bill from $75 to $180 per hour and lawyers bill from $150 to $350 per hour depending on experience and expertise. We focus on providing value commensurate with the cost. We do not “churn the bill” like some law firms.
With legal costs at an all-time high, business as usual is the wrong answer. Law firms need to plan expenditures to minimize cost while obtaining the greatest benefit. They must make maximum use of technology to increase productivity and lower costs. Hourly rates do not measure productivity. Clients cannot be expected to cover the cost of high priced, ever increasing rents in downtown high-rise buildings. Clients can no longer be expected to pay for associates who overbill a file to achieve required minimum billing levels.
Our preferred office location is outside of the city in a lower-cost building. We look for free parking and easy access from a major freeway. Since federal courts and more state courts require filing on the Internet, there is little reason to be located across from the court house.
Tollefsen Law frequently meets clients in their offices or homes to make the representation as convenient as possible for the client.
Tollefsen Law’s low overhead offers several advantages over large law firms: Better response time because you have direct access to the lawyer. Greater personal attention from the lawyer you hired. Your case will not be delegated to an associate without your approval. Every case is assigned a paralegal case manager who is readily available to contact regarding your case. Often lower overall legal expense is achieved through a combination of efficiency resulting from experience and the lack of pressure to obtain a minimum amount of billing per month. Since you are working directly with the responsible attorney and the case manager, there is less chance of billing misunderstandings and greater accountability of the lawyer to the client. Our firm concentrates on delivering value to clients for every dollar billed.
Meetings in client office or home
Client location is usually not a significant factor any longer. Many courts allow filing of court documents electronically. The initial meeting, depositions, mediation, and trial are often the only time attorney and client meet face to face. Tollefsen Law frequently meets clients in their offices or homes to make the representation as convenient as possible for the client.
Why no free consultations?
Prospective new clients often request free initial consultations. If we agreed, we would need a full-time attorney just to take initial consultations. Also, because of the experience level of our attorneys, many clients would receive the answer they are seeking in the initial meeting. This is unfair to our attorneys who have engaged in a lifetime of study of law to make their living. Even if we resolved the case in the initial consultation, we would need to establish a new client file, perform conflict checks, and make records of the facts of the case and the advice given.
Minimum fee for new clients
Tollefsen Law receives frequent requests for a short meeting with an attorney. It is often not cost effective to have a short meeting with a new client that will not have further work for the firm. In order to meet the demand for small case consultations, new clients (those not established in our database) are charged a minimum retainer of $500. The first $175 goes to the file setup fee. It includes a conflict check and set up of the electronic file in our database. The remaining $325 is applied to future invoices. The $500 is earned on receipt so the firm does not have the cost of maintaining trust account records on small client files. After a client is established in our database, future work (whether related to the initial matter or not) does not require a minimum fee or file setup fee.
We receive many telephone calls and emails from prospective clients each week seeking legal representation on a contingency fee basis. Most callers do not understand the economics of contingent payment. To take a contingency fee case, the law firm is agreeing to forgo an hourly fee case. Therefore the contingency fee case must offer the possibility of compensation in excess of the normal hourly rate, unless there are other compelling circumstances. Cases typically take one to four years to resolve. The cost to the law firm taking the case is often over $100,000. Before investing a significant sum in a contingency fee case, the law firm needs to be assured the defendants have the unquestioned ability to pay any judgment. Most of the time, the perpetrators of financial fraud schemes either do not have assets or have hidden them. Unless there is another “deep pocket” with potential liability, there is no real remedy for the wrong. TL accepts a limited number of contingency fee cases. For various reasons, we turn down over 90% of contingency fee requests.
Contingency fees are negotiable but are usually approximately 33.33% if the client pays the costs in advance. Contingency fees require large amounts of damages (in excess of $200,000) and solvent defendants. Some cases start as hourly but become hybrid (part-contingency or fixed fee) after the facts of the case are more certain through the discovery process.
Generally we consider all the following factors when deciding whether to take a contingency fee case. If the answer is “yes” to any of the following questions, TL will probably not take your case on a contingency fee basis unless there is a public interest or unusually compelling factor.
- Is there a risk that the defendant(s) will not pay a judgment?
- Are the damages likely to be less than $200,000?
- Has the statute of limitations expired?
- Is it a type of case that TL does not normally handle?
Fixed fee and special fee Arrangements
TL will consider a creative fee agreement that can meet your needs. Often businesses find themselves in need of significant legal services that are not part of their annual budget. Whether it is the cost of business organization, financing (including private placements), or litigation, TL has plans for almost any business need. From monthly payment plans, retainer agreements, fixed fees, contingency and hybrid arrangements, TL will do its best to find a way to provide the legal services you need.
Retainer agreements can be customized to meet your needs. If you have a need for a lawyer from time to time, it is helpful to have one who knows you and your situation.
If you have a need for a lawyer from time to time, it is helpful to have one who knows you and your situation.
The least expensive retainer available from Tollefsen Law PLLC is billed at $1,000 per year. The retainer fee is paid in advance and placed in the firm’s client trust account. If you use legal services during the year, those fees are deducted from your trust account. In addition, you will be scheduled for a one hour appointment with a lawyer each year to relate what happened in your life the previous year. This meeting allows you to keep your attorney apprised of your situation and spot issues you may have overlooked. You will be charged for this meeting at the lawyer’s then standard hourly rate (whether or not you attend the meeting). At the end of the retainer year, you will be automatically billed the amount needed to replenish the retainer. If you do not pay the invoice within 30 days, the balance of your trust account will be mailed to you and Tollefsen Law PLLC will no longer be your law firm.
We want to be of service. If you have any ideas for improving our fee arrangements, please let us know.
Potential New Client Inquiry
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