What is the Conundrum?
The legal services conundrum is a term I use to describe the current state of legal services in the US. The conundrum is that with so many talented attorneys out there, it’s hard for attorneys to be able to price their services high enough for their clients. Some customers want good attorneys and want them cheap. Others are unwilling to pay more than $300/hr even though they know they need an attorney who charges over $500/hr in order to be successful on their case. Still others don’t understand why they should have to pay more money just because they have a lot of money or property at stake, and would rather save time by settling with the other side before a lawsuit even goes forward. It’s all very confusing, but let me explain what I mean, step by step:
There are lots of lawyers who charge less than $200/hr (or far less than that). In fact most lawyers do – particularly young ones or solo practitioners who aren’t as established yet and don’t have much reputation behind them. The improved access to legal services available in the US is a great thing. However, it’s also caused many customers to view lawyers as a commodity instead of an investment. Every customer wants to get the most for their money and I don’t blame them for that. However, every client thinks they are able to find a bargain-priced attorney who will do just as good of a job as one who charges more per hour. This is not true – there is no such thing as “bargain” first-rate legal services, although there can be excellent attorneys who charge less than $200/hr (or far less).
There are also some customers with very high net worths or at least large amounts at stake in any given lawsuit or dispute, who want to save time and money by settling before even filing suit because they feel like it’s not worth paying millions of dollars on legal fees if they could settle with the other side quickly and easily (for much cheaper). This mentality often comes from people with lots of money but little understanding of litigation or how litigation works – especially divorce cases. They think that fighting over assets with his wife or her husband is going to cost you so much money that you should just settle out of court right away so you can both move on with your lives without wasting all that money on an expensive attorney when you could easily agree upon dividing up your marital property yourself instead. They also don’t understand how much leverage you have at the beginning of a case when you have a good lawyer and haven’t yet filed suit.
In reality, having a good attorney is absolutely worth it in the vast majority of cases – especially if your case involves any kind of dispute over legal rights or property. Missing out on your right to take someone to court (or having to go through years and years of litigation instead of being able to quickly settle a dispute) can be very costly in terms of time, money, stress, and even health. If you are involved in any kind of litigation or dispute that involves money or property rights and there’s enough at stake for it to be worth fighting over – then it is worth hiring an attorney who charges more than $200/hr because that’s what it takes for attorneys with lots of expertise and experience who are great at trial work (which often costs far more than simple settlement negotiations). Filing lawsuits is expensive business whether you’re paying high hourly rates or not – but every hour spent on negotiations with the other side before filing suit costs your client just as much as hours spent preparing pleadings or working on discovery filings. In fact negotiating before filing suit could cost way more time than actually going through discovery motions after filing suit.
As a customer, you have to decide how much value you think attorneys are providing. Do you think that there’s no difference between an attorney who charges $200/hr and one who charges $500/hr? Or do you believe that it takes years of experience and lots of specialized training to be able to successfully represent your interests in court? Is it worth saving money by hiring a lesser-known attorney for half the price when the case can easily go on for years? Ultimately, customers will decide what they’re willing to pay for legal services. Attorneys may be able to influence how much their clients are charged – but ultimately it’s up to them (the client) whether they want better service or not. If they don’t care about being represented by an expert, then they’ll just keep accepting all kinds of proposals from all kinds of attorneys until someone offers them cheap enough legal advice or representation. If I were a customer looking for legal services right now I would look into retaining good experienced lawyers (and paying reasonable rates), but if I were running my own law firm I would definitely be very concerned about my ability to make ends meet as a business if there weren’t enough customers looking for high quality first-rate representation at reasonable rates – although fortunately there is still quite a lot of work out there right now if your network is large enough and you’re willing and able work hard enough finding clients.
I hope this has been helpful! Happy Monday everyone!