by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Perhaps more than any area of law, solo and small firm family law attorneys, have created a sustainable competitive advantage in the legal services marketplace.
The delivery of excellent legal services, especially in family law (and to a great extent, criminal defense) matters, depends to a huge degree, on the specific attorney you hire. Not the building they work in. Not the number of attorneys on the letterhead. Not the number of offices the firm has around the state or offices they have around the world. The law school the attorney attended matters very little, if at all. The attorney you hire and your working relationship with that attorney, are perhaps the most important factors in the results you obtain in a family law matter. This concept cannot be over-emphasized.
In my opinion, some of the best family law attorneys work solo or in a family law focused, small law firm. With very limited exception, they are not usually part of a firm with hundreds or thousands of lawyers. Some attorneys charge a flat fee. Others charge by the hour, in 6 minute increments. Some have a unique billing system based on specific services. Some lawyers use a sliding fee scale. Some bundle or unbundle their legal services. Some work fast. Others work slowly. Speak candidly about costs and fees when you interview any potential attorney. I do not know of any outstanding attorney who will shy away from answering your questions about costs and fees. In Pennsylvania, the rules of professional conduct require a written fee agreement between attorney and client. Read it. Understand it. Ask questions. Stay informed.
An attorney’s billable hourly rate does not necessarily correlate with your total legal costs. A $250 hourly rate is not efficient if it takes three times as long to bring a matter to a successful conclusion. Conversely, an attorney with a lower than average hourly rate does not mean an attorney is not competent or cannot deliver a great result in any particular matter. In fact, lower than average billing rates can mean “big law firm overhead” has been cut out of the equation and the savings has been passed along to the client.
A high hourly billing rate does not guarantee great results or that the attorney is a good fit for your high net-worth divorce matter, or even that the attorney is a good fit for you. Some attorneys who have a higher hourly billing rate work quickly and very effectively. In the end, they can actually save the client money.
Talk to your lawyer about their use and mastery of technology before hiring him or her. The century-old methods of delivering legal services is no longer tolerated in today’s competitive environment. No family law attorney needs to keep an extensive, physical law library. Cases and statutes are instantly available online.
With limited exception, most legal filings in PA state courts of common pleas can be done electronically. Make sure your family law attorney files court documents electronically whenever possible. Your lawyer should strive to leverage technology in an effort to save your money.
As previously stated in an earlier blog: when choosing a family law attorney, search vigorously, select wisely. In the end, you will be glad you did.