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Law Office of William J. Dyer

Attorney-at-Law ♦ Counselor ♦ Trial Advocate

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Fee negotiations > Hourly rate fees > Contingent fees > Hybrid fees > Expenses > Referrals >  
Hourly-rate fees
 
Oftentimes I'll charge for my services based on a negotiated hourly rate, plus expenses.
 
Although my hourly rates vary from case to case and client to client according to the Rule 1.04 factors, they always reflect my background and experience — which means that they are substantial. But my hourly rates are generally lower than the rates that Texas BigLaw firms charge for their equity partners (as averaged to include both junior and senior partners). And my rates are typically only a fraction of what large Texas firms charge for my contemporaries who are now their senior partners, against and sometimes with whom I now often find myself aligned in court. 
 
I won't agree to a lower hourly rate based on a wink and a nod and a suggestion that I can "make it up" on the number of hours billed. If you want someone whose ethics are that flexible, you don't want me.
 
I bill in honest-but-approximate quarter-hour increments. I don't use a stop-watch, and I round off to the nearest quarter-hour increment, either up or down. I try harder to be fair than exactly precise. For example, if I've made seven calls over four days that averaged roughly three minutes apiece as part of a protracted game of telephone tag via voicemail, I'll probably aggregate all those calls into one quarter-hour entry on a single date. 
 
I do not "value bill," meaning I refuse to pad my bills based on how much time something "ought" to take. Clients have volunteered to pay me a "performance bonus" at the conclusion of some cases based on exceptional results and cost-effectiveness, and I like that. But I can often accomplish a particular result more efficiently than when I was younger and less experienced, and that's indirectly built into my rates. If I conclude that I have instead been culpably inefficient, I may write time off.

I almost never rely on form-books or "fill-in-the-blank" software, nor on staff to do what ought to be my work. Instead, except for the most routine cover-letters, I custom-tailor "from scratch" every pleading, letter, or email that I send out. My time spent may vary substantially, and in either direction, from what other lawyers might spend doing similar tasks.
 
Not all my time spent on behalf of clients is "doing." Some of it is "just thinking" — while sitting at a computer keyboard, pacing the hallways, or simply staring off into space. I don't charge for travel time, but a lot of my travel time is also "thinking time." (If I'm asleep on a plane or in a hotel room, my meter is not running.) Daydreaming afterwards about brilliant arguments that I ought to have made doesn't count. But when I'm making sustained efforts to plan, compose, and rehearse brilliant arguments in preparation for actually making them on a client's behalf, and when I am confident that my client has gotten good value for the time I've invested in this sort of "just thinking," I will indeed bill for it. You ought not want a lawyer who's incapable of — or resistant to, or even just under-acquainted with — reflective thought and planning. While thinking on one's feet in a crisis is indeed a necessary skill for courtroom lawyers, it's by no means a sufficient one. No plan survives first contact with the enemy; and thus, as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower explained, "Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable."
 
Especially for new clients, I often require a retainer — usually meaning an up-front deposit against which I will then bill both my time and expenses. As I bill against it, I require the client to refresh the retainer to its original amount. I hold as-yet-unearned retainers in my trust account and will refund any balance when my representation ends. 
 
Occasionally, however — depending on a variety of circumstances  — I will contract for some part of my fee to be in the form of a non-refundable up-front flat fee. Even in appropriate cases, this can obviously only be done with the client's advance consent after full notice and disclosure, as confirmed in our written representation agreement. Some lawyers refer to these up-front flat-fee payments as "fully earned retainers." But I try to restrict the use of the word "retainer" to more traditional circumstances in which I'm temporarily holding funds that my client has pre-paid in order for me to bill against in the future. And by contrast to those traditional retainers, an up-front flat fee becomes mine upon receipt, so such a fee would never be deposited into my trust account.