When you require the services of an attorney, there are two primary things you should take into consideration, and one thing that you absolutely should not. Unfortunately, the latter oftentimes overrides the former.
When you hire a lawyer, no matter the issue, I suggest that you look for an attorney who has, in no particular order of importance, experience and a reputation of success in handling legal matters. However, in many situations, clients choose legal talent based upon who charges the lowest hourly rate. Limiting your hiring decision solely to financial considerations can be a very costly decision. Allow me to explain.
Attorneys are market-driven professionals. The fees they charge are in direct correlation to what expenses they have and what the specific market will bear. There exists a balance, or tipping point, between the fees charged and the business generated. This is no different from any other business, including that of a martial arts school.
Most non-personal injury cases are billed on an hourly basis. If the attorney is working on your file, the time spent is multiplied against the hourly rate. This payment scheme includes the vast majority of business disputes that you and your business will encounter.
New attorneys will charge less than their more-experienced brethren out of necessity. A 30-year attorney may charge $500 per hour while a newly minted attorney may be limited to a fee of $200 per hour. If you remove the reputational aspect of the attorney’s skillset (important if the representation requires standing between you and a judge or other trier of fact) paying more per hour for an experienced attorney can be far less expensive than the hourly fee charged suggests. This is because the experienced attorney may be able to clear up your legal issues in far less time than her less-experienced counterpart.
Once an attorney passes the state bar examination and is admitted to practice, there are no limitations placed upon what types of cases they can become involved in. An attorney with wet ink on her diploma could represent a defendant in a capital murder case should she wish. Thankfully, common sense limits this scenario to My Cousin Vinnie-type Hollywood productions.
It is certainly reasonable that an experienced attorney may need far fewer hours to properly handle a legal situation. A new attorney may be able to, and hopefully can, also appropriately handle a legal matter, perhaps just as well as the more experienced lawyer. However, it would be a rare situation where the inexperienced attorney could do so as efficiently as the experienced attorney.
I am currently co-counseling with another Miami-based attorney representing a semi-well-known actor who lives in Europe but has property in Florida. He will soon be in California for a part in a movie. His Florida-based wife is seeking a divorce, and we surmise that she will attempt to serve the papers on him in California.
However, to do so, certain pleading requirements are necessary, but are not contained in the Florida lawsuit. Therefore, we know that any service given to him in California is void and his European divorce will be instituted and served on his wife first, vesting the foreign court with jurisdiction and providing him with a distinct legal advantage.
The point is simple. An inexperienced attorney would most certainly eventually come to the same correct opinion as did my co-counsel, but likely it would have taken several hours of billable hours to get there. My co-counsel knew the answer immediately and the client was billed accordingly. If you do the math, unless a personal relationship requires you use a less-experienced (and cheaper) attorney, your best interests may be met by choosing the more experienced lawyer, or, at very least, by not choosing legal representation solely on the fees charged.
The legal field is one place where you do get what you pay for. Choosing legal representation using the fee charged as the sole determining factor is money ill spent!
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