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For Legal Fees, It’s More of a Buyer’s Market

The New York Times, Business Day, National Edition SPG2
Oct. 20, 2010

By Deborah Jacobs

© Copyright 2010 NYT


TAP UNDERVALUED TALENT Contractions in the legal work force can be your gain, as well-trained young or midcareer lawyers cast off by big firms hang out their shingles, said John W. Toothman, president of the Devil's Advocate, a legal fee consulting firm in Great Falls, Va.

These lawyers keep overhead low by sharing space with bigger firms or renting no-frills space near the government offices where public records must be filed. For certain matters, city dwellers can reap additional savings by seeking out small-town lawyers, whose rates are far below those of their urban or suburban counterparts. Sure, there is some cachet to having your prenuptial agreement prepared by the same lawyer who is handling a celebrity divorce, but is that what you really need?

You might have to do a little digging to find the hidden gems. Referrals from local bar associations are one possibility. Better yet, speak to members of your community, including clergy, tax advisers and leaders of civic groups. Some of the best leads may come from people with similar issues who have been pleased with the service they received assuming you can trust them to guard your privacy, if that's an issue, Mr. Toothman said. For example, a parent whose child has a disability and is concerned about the school's obligation to make accommodations might find a kindred spirit through the local PTA.

CORRAL FEES Most lawyers charge an hourly rate, which gives them an incentive to run up the tab and can lead to sticker shock when the bill arrives. For routine matters, like preparing a will or a simple contract, you can ask for a flat fee, which also enables you to bid your work to multiple firms and negotiate a lump-sum price. When the lawyer has no idea how long things will take, you'll have no choice but to pay by the hour for example, for negotiating a contract or a severance package. But here too, you can control costs by setting a cap on what you'll spend and being clear about expectations. "Lawyers can go to town and negotiate every little thing," Mr. Toothman said. It is up to you to say something to the effect of "I don't need every possible clause in this lease." ....


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Established 1993

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