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.MPj04157950000[1]

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.

Fee Schedule

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.

Reduced Fees

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.

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Hourly rates

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.

Low overhead

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.

Contingency fees

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.

Bankruptcy Fixed Fees

Immigration Fixed Fees


Retainer Agreements

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.

It is often difficult to educate a lawyer quickly in an emergency. The retainer agreement can be flexible and combine fixed fees and hourly fees.

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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Federal Anti-kickback Statutes

There are at least three federal anti-kickback statutes the anti-fraud community should be familiar with. A fourth is the Stark Law (anti-physician self-referral). Federal Anti-kickback Statutes The earliest of the three is the Copeland “Anti-kickback” Act (Pub.L. 73–324, 48 Stat. 948, enacted June 13, 1934, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 874) which supplements the Davis–Bacon Act of 1931. Congress discovered that employers during the Depression were scheming to get around the prevailing wage provisions on federal contracts by requiring wage “kickbacks” from employees. The Copeland Act prohibits a federal building contractor or subcontractor from inducing an employee into giving up any part of the compensation that he or she is entitled to under the terms of his or her employment contract. The second anti-kickback statute was enacted as part of the Social Security Amendments of 1972 to make efforts to prosecute Medicare and Medicaid fraud easier. The statute was broadly construed in United States v. Greber (3rd cir., 1985).  Dr. Greber was convicted by a jury on 20 of 23 counts in an indictment charging violations of the mail fraud, Medicare fraud, and false statement statutes. His defense was that the payments were for professional services. The court held a jury could find him guilty if part of the reason for using the service was the payment. “If the payments were intended to induce the physician to use [the] services, the statute was violated, even if the payments were also intended to compensate for professional services”. The ruling prohibited business transactions that were once fairly innocuous, leading to the creation of safe harbors. (See e.g. 42 CFR 411.355). The safe harbors are now complex and detailed. The third federal statute...

Regulatory Compliance: It’s the Little Things…

Regulatory penalties can be devastating for a company, yet many companies, especially small companies, fail to plan for or devote resources to regulatory compliance. These companies can be confused and incredulous when they become the focus of investigations or sanctions and may delay responding until their very existence is at stake. Proper counsel can help companies understand regulators’ focus which helps them to prepare for and address compliance issues in a timely manner.

Fair Chance – Washington

 Ban-the Box Legislation Fair Chance – Washington h-3695.1-fair-chance-act New legislation beginning to emerge around the country may initially seem counter-intuitive to CFEs. The new laws prohibits employers from asking an applicant about his/her criminal history on a job application or during initial screening and delays that inquiry until after an applicant is determined to be otherwise qualified for the job. There is something in us CFEs that wants to know all but it is becoming clear that many of those caught up in the criminal system have little chance of becoming contributing citizens once they are  branded as a criminal. On November 3, 2015, President Obama signed a ban-the-box (aka “Fair Chance”) executive order addressed to federal agencies (referring to the box to check on an employment application affirming a criminal conviction). According to the National Employment Law Project there are more than 100 cities and counties around the country that have adopted ban-the box rules. Effective October 27, 2015, the New York City Human Right Law was amended by The Fair Chance Act.1N.Y.C. Administrative Code §8-107(11-a) . Guidance which promises vigorous enforcement was published. 2 http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/html/coverage/fair-chance-legalguidance.shtml In December of 2015, Portland, Oregon adopted a Fair Chance Law. Under their version of the law, employers are prohibited from inquiring about or even accessing an applicant’s criminal history from any other source before making a “conditional offer of employment.” This is defined as being any offer that is conditioned solely on the results of the criminal background inquiry or some other contingency that is expressly communicated to the applicant at the time of the offer. There currently is a Ban-the-Box bill...

WA Consumer Protection Law applies extraterritorially

Under the CPA an out-of-state plaintiff may bring a claim.against a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Similarly, an out:of-state plaintiff may bring a CPA claim against an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its in-state agent.

Collapse of building for insurance purposes

QUEEN ANNE PARK HOMEOWNERS  ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation,  v.   STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY  COMPANY, a foreign insurance company, June 18 2015 Copy of Case 2015-Queen-Anne-Park-v-State-Farm The Washington Supreme Court held that collapse means substantial impairment of structural integrity. The dissent argued collapse means “collapse”. Part or all of the building fell down. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the court to decide this question: What does “collapse” mean under Washington law in an insurance policy that insures “accidental direct physical loss involving collapse,” subject to the policy’s terms, conditions, exclusions, and other provisions, but does not define “collapse,” except to state that “collapse does not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion?” The insured building was found to have “hidden decay” that  had substantially impaired the walls’ ability to resist lateral loads according to the owner’s inspector. Hidden decay that caused a collapse was expressly covered by the policy. “Construction of an insurance policy is a question of law for the courts, the policy is construed as a whole, and the policy ‘should be given a fair, reasonable, and sensible construction as would be given to the contract by the average person purchasing insurance.”‘1Queen City Farms, Inc. v. Cent. Nat’l Ins. Co. of Omaha, 126 Wn.2d 50, 65, 882 P.2d 703 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Grange Ins. Co. v. Brosseau, 113 Wn.2d 91, 95,776 P.2d 123 (1989) ). The court held that “collapse” is ambiguous because it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation. In this case there were two conflicting rules of interpretation: 1) plain meaning versus 2) favor the insured if...

Waiver Under Washington’s Deed of Trust Act Permitted Where Technical Violations Did Not Harm Plaintiff

Merry v Nationstar –Wn App 324745-III   Background to Deed of Trust In 2007, Sharon Weirich borrowed $205,440 from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. and executed a Deed of Trust on her real property as security. The deed identified Countrywide as the lender, Landsafe Title of Washington as the Trustee, and the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) as “a separate corporation that is acting solely as a nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns.” In Bain v. Metropolitan Mortgage Group, 175 Wn.2d 83, 93, 285 P.3d 34 (2012), the Supreme Court of Washington held that the MERS registry’s business practices in creating and transferring beneficial interests with regard to mortgages conflict with the requirements of Washington’s Deed of Trust Act. Beginning in 2011 MERS made a number of assignments and changes in ownership of the note, beneficiary, and trustee using the business practices found to conflict with the Deed of Trust Act.  Following these changes, in October 2012, Northwest Trustee Services, Inc. served Mrs. Weirich with a notice of default on behalf of Bank of America. The same month Ms. Weirich executed a deed of trust to Thomas Merry. This deed of trust secured payment of a $68,000 promissory note. Ms. Weirich also executed a power of attorney and an assignment of legal claims to Mr. Merry. In December 2012, Ms. Weirich received a notice of trustee’s sale informing her that her property would be sold on April 19, 2013 to satisfy her promissory note she originally gave to Countrywide. However, property was not sold on April 19, 2013 and no sale was rescheduled within the 120-day window...

State Supreme Court Finds Washington’s Anti-SLAPP Statute Violates Right to Jury Trial

On May 28, 2015, in Davis v Cox, the Washington State Supreme Court invalidated the Washington Anti-SLAPP statute, RCW 4.24.525. In a unanimous decision, the Court found that section (4)(b) of statute unconstitutionally violates the right to a jury trial. The Court further held that, because every other section in RCW 4.24.525 is dependent upon section (4)(b), the provision is nonseverable and the statute is invalid as a whole. The Washington Anti-SLAPP statute was adopted to address and dissuade “lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances”. A defendant may file a special motion to strike any “action involving public participation and petition”. If the action is found to involve “public participation and petition”, the responding party must “establish by clear and convincing evidence a probability of prevailing on the claim”. If the moving party prevails, the statute contains a provision for a mandatory $10,000 civil penalty and attorney fees for instituting a lawsuit in violation of the statute. The focus of the Court’s decision was the standard of proof placed upon the party responding to a special motion to strike. The responding party must “establish by clear and convincing evidence a probability of prevailing on the claim”. The Court held that the statutory language requires a trial judge to make factual findings and adjudicate the claim. Article I, Section 21 of the Washington State Constitution states, “The right of trial by jury shall remain inviolate”. The Court noted that, “At its core, the right of trial by jury guarantees litigants the right to...

Liability for Opinions – Omnicare

Putting Omnicare v Laborers District Counsel in Historical Perspective Omnicare, Inc., et al. v. Laborers District Council Construction Industry Pension Fund et al. Argued November 3, 2014—Decided March 24, 2015 Copy of Decision: 1503-Omnicare Overview The author is a Certified Fraud Examiner and is critical of the common law involving fraud and deceit. Too often the common law allows the taking of money from victims through hyper-technical defenses and faulty logic. Most of this comes from the lack of sympathy the judges have shown for the fraud victim through the history of the development of the law of misrepresentation. One example is the liability for opinions expressed in contrast to facts expressed. The general common law allows the person who takes money through a false expression of opinion to keep the money if speaker believed her opinion. Omnicare, in the context of a registration statement, moves the law in a positive direction by creating liability for a factual omission imbedded in the opinion that would be necessary to correct a false impression. Even though the Supreme Court did not delve in the history of the law, the 2015 Omnicare decision moved the court in a positive direction. The law on opinion testimony as fraudulent may be traced to the 1889 House of Lords decision of Derry v. Peek.1Derry v. Peek, (1889) L.R. 14 App. Cas. 337 (House of Lords) which limited liability for misrepresentation to fact patterns involving scienter. Derry excluded from the definition of “scienter” misrepresentation made with an honest belief that the fact represented was true. Although Derry was seemingly accepted be most United States courts and was adopted by the...

Fraud on the Market

Although the Oregon securities law statute does not on its face require proof of scienter (intent to manipulate, deceive or defraud), the Oregon Court of Appeals read the requirement into the statute if the theory for relief is fraud on the market. Copy of the decision: 150211-Oregon-v-Marsh-&-McLennan In 2003 the legislature amended the Oregon securities law to provide a good faith defense from securities law violations for secondary violators (one who materially aids or is a control person) and to eliminate the defense for sellers and all those in a fraud on the market case. The court reasoned the legislature did not provide a good a good faith defense for those who material aid (or control the issuer) in a fraud on the market case because it assumed that federal securities law applied. That meant the participants are liable because of their culpable intent to defraud and a good faith defense would not make sense. Even though ORS 59.137 does not require scienter by its terms, that is what it means. In a fraud on the market case, Oregon law is the same as federal law under SEC Rule 10b-5. Whatever one thinks of the Oregon Court of Appeals “correcting” the words of the statute, there is a troubling use of language in the case. The court distinguishes fraud on the market from “direct, face-to-face securities transactions”. This is not a valid description of the distinction. Either type of securities transaction can occur in face-to-face situations. Telephones have been available in Oregon for over 100 years and private issuer transactions are often sold over the phone without any face-to-face meeting.  One of the...

Business Liability for Foreseeable Harm

McKown v Simon Property Group, Supreme Court of Washington, March 5, 2015 Decision:  050405-McKnown-v-Simon-Properties After 40 years of practicing U.S. law, I have grown to appreciate the gift we received from our colonizing parent, the common law. The civil law systems suffer from the same rigidity that all statutes impose: one size fits all. The legislature drafts a statute as a solution to a perceived problem not understanding how it might be unjust in a different fact situation. The common law can smooth out these injustices by providing court-made law which reacts to the facts and needs of justice in a particular case. The negatives of the common law system that has decisions made by juries include unpredictability and indefensible awards. The common law has invented tools to minimize the negatives. One of those tools is “foreseeability”. It allows a court to claim that no one could have foreseen the harm so the defendant is not liable. Foreseeability is often the only legal barrier protecting a business from liability. Unfortunately it has proven to be a two-edged sword. The limits of foreseeably was highlighted in McKown v Simon Property Group. On Sunday, November 20, 2005, Dominick S. Maldonado walked into the Tacoma Mall and opened fire on shoppers and mall employees, injuring seven people. Maldonado wore a dark trench coat concealing a MAK-90 rifle and an Intratec Tec-9 pistol, and carried a guitar case filled with ammunition. McKown, an employee at one of the retail stores, tried to stop Maldonado, but was shot and wounded. Simon Property Group owned the Tacoma Mall. Under Washington Law, the Tacoma Mall is liable to McKown...