Do you charge for the first meeting with an attorney at Fleming & Curti?
Yes. Fleming & Curti charges an initial consultation fee (currently $400 for most types of matters). If you choose to retain us after the initial consultation that fee will be applied to the final bill. For example, if you pay an initial consultation fee to discuss estate planning matters and then retain us to prepare your will and powers of attorney, the total fee will include a credit for the initial consultation payment.
Why do you charge for the first meeting?
We know your time is valuable, and so is ours. We expect to accomplish quite a lot at our first meeting with you. We want to determine the scope of the problem, offer you suggestions on how to address it, decide how you want to proceed, and collect the information that we will need to begin the work. For this reason, we send you a questionnaire to complete and bring with you to the first meeting. Though you may not have met us before, that initial meeting is far more than a “getting to know you” session.
Do all (or most) lawyers charge an initial consultation fee?
There are other lawyers and firms who do not charge an initial consultation fee. While we have not conducted any studies, and know of none available, we suspect that practitioners are about evenly split on the subject. We do not begrudge those who choose not to charge an initial fee, and we do not maintain that our fee is evidence that we are better lawyers. We have found, however, that the initial consultation fee helps focus our (and our clients’) attention on the issues during that first session, and is fair to both client and lawyer.
How much will this (legal work) cost me?
At our first meeting, we will discuss your situation and the nature of the work that needs to be done, describe what we propose to do, and give you an estimate of how long that might take. We will prepare a fee agreement that spells out the work to be done and the fee we will charge. It will indicate whether you are paying a flat fee, an hourly fee, or a percentage fee, and how often you can expect us to bill you. If the scope of the work changes, or if you require additional work that was not discussed at the initial meeting, we will prepare a new fee agreement to cover the additional work. Fleming & Curti’s detailed fee schedule is available online.
Unlike some law firms, we do not charge for ordinary postage, photocopying, or telephone expenses. We will charge for extensive photocopying services (if, for example, an entire file must be copied), or for unusual telecommunication services (such as conference calls) or other, similar, items.
Do you charge hourly fees for your representation?
We usually charge at an hourly rate for ALTCS (Medicaid) applications and re-determinations, and for adult guardianship and conservatorship matters. This is because the nature of the work and the amount of time required will vary from client to client, and because it can be difficult to predict these variables in advance. In some cases, we will also be required to submit our hourly billing records to a court for approval, and so we are more likely to charge an hourly fee in those cases. Our hourly rate varies depending on whether the work is performed by the attorneys, paralegals, case managers, and other professionals who work on your case. We bill in tenths of an hour, with a minimum charge of .2 hours for each activity. A few tasks (the review and signing of an annual accounting, preparation of tax returns, or the filing of initial probate pleadings, for example) are charged at a flat rate to reflect the fact that they may require more than a single attorney review or may be the culmination of a long period of individual, unbilled activities. We post our current hourly rates for attorneys and other professionals online, and keep those rates updated. We may change our hourly rates from time to time (in the past about once every two years).
Are all charges based on the hours expended?
Not always. For most estate planning cases (wills, powers of attorney, revocable living trusts, special needs trusts, and deeds) and ALTCS consultations, we charge a flat fee. This is easier when the work has a discrete start and ending point, and we can estimate the amount of time it will take us to complete the work. It is our experience that clients usually prefer a flat fee arrangement, so that the know in advance how much they will be billed. Such an arrangement also allows our clients to schedule as many appointments and ask as many questions as may be necessary to ensure complete comfort with the final product, without being concerned about fees continuing to accrue as issues are resolved.
We have begun to charge flat fees in probate proceedings with some regularity; depending on our assessment of the likely complexity and the possibility of objections, contested creditors’ claims and the like, we are usually willing to quote a flat fee.
We also may charge flat fees for other services. For example, if a home visit is required for consultation with an attorney or execution of estate planning documents, we will add an extra flat-fee charge for that visit. If you require emergency assistance with a guardianship or conservatorship matter, we will add an additional flat fee.
Do you ever charge a percentage fee?
When we act as a fiduciary (either trustee, guardian/conservator or personal representative) we may in some cases charge a percentage fee. In that case, our fee will usually be a percentage of the value of the trust or estate that we manage. Such a fee arrangement may be as a minimum fee; that is, we may set the percentage fee as the minimum, but charge more if the amount of work required is more extensive than would be covered by that fee.
What about contingency fees?
In a few cases (usually involving will and trust contests) we may be willing to discuss setting our fee as a percentage of the recovery for our clients. In such cases we will not ordinarily charge fees during the pendency of the case, and we will collect a fee only if our client receives an inheritance. We will be happy to discuss the possibility of contingency fees in individual cases.
Will I have to pay a retainer?
Other than the initial consultation fee, we usually do not require retainers to be paid at the beginning of our representation. One common exception: in guardianship, conservatorship and probate administration cases where we reasonably anticipate an objection, we may require a retainer.
Are you willing to negotiate a flat fee agreement?
Usually, yes. We are ordinarily happy to negotiate a flat fee agreement with you at the initial consultation, even in cases where we would ordinarily charge an hourly fee.
What if I’m not happy with the fee?
If you have questions or concerns about the fee, please raise them with the attorney who is providing the services. The State Bar of Arizona also offers a fee arbitration mechanism, but we do not expect that you will need to go that far to resolve any fee dispute. Our attitude is that client satisfaction is important, both for our personal quality of work life and for the good business referrals it engenders.