How do you earn more in your law firm without sacrificing quality or your time? That’s a tall order, but not impossible. One question: do you have the right pricing model for your ideal clients?

Out with the old

In the past, all attorneys billed their clients on an hourly basis for their labors. The dreaded 6 minute increment that reduces your brilliance and experience into a common denominator. Many lawyers and law firms still bill by the hour. Even though, 81% of lawyers accept that alternative fee arrangements are here to stay.

New approaches to law firm pricing

Alternative Fee arrangements are one way to think about your pricing. Alternative fee arrangements attempt to price based on the value received by clients and can come in a variety of formats.

Let’s look at a couple of examples shared by LegalTrek in the Guide to Alternative Fee Arrangements, shall we?

Traditionally, we think of a fixed price or flat fee when considering AFAs (Alternative Fee Arrangements).

Flat fee or fixed pricing

The benefit of a flat fee is that both you and your client know what to expect. According to studies, 89% of clients stress hard about what the expense of working with a lawyer. Imagine how grateful your client will be when you can say exactly what the cost will be and give them options for payment.

I used flat fee billing in my mediation practice and it worked like a charm. While most mediators were getting around $150/hour at the time, I was earning closer to $400 delivering the same service. How did I do that?

Transparency, predictability and value

Using a Flat Fee

I booked mediation with business partners as a fixed price. There was one flat fee for the mediation and all the attendant work that accompanies a mediation.

I billed for the convenience of a quick resolution, a private forum and my business knowledge. My colleagues billed only for their actual time, which was a problem because mediation wasn’t as popular as it is now.

People don’t automatically see the value in ‘talking through their problem with a stranger’;consequently, clients weren’t interested in investing in more hours when the outcome was unclear. I gave my parties to mediation a defined cost and completion time so they knew what to expect. No, I didn’t guarantee outcome. I did offer a structure that more easily lead to an outcome.

I made it my practice to tell clients:

-what the process involved i.e time, scheduling, documentation
-what the process cost i.e. flat rate and continuing rate
-what the next step was if we didn’t settle in one session
-why mediating my way was the most cost effective & productive

That really made all the difference in attracting clients who appreciated the candor and were willing to pay more for the certainty. In fact, I joked that clients could set their own price because they were in control of when the matter settled.

Where in your practice can you use a flat fee to add predictability for your clients?

Flat fee + Success Fee

This is a flat fee with some sugar on top. The success fee recognizes your work over and above the fee. The success fee is like the bonus you pay your renovation contractor for coming in on time and on budget.

I lost my first success fee and will never forget it.

I was offering Ombuds services to small companies in Boston, when I was selected to work with a company in preparation for a merger. They had culture issues that were blocking the deal. I negotiated a great deal for the work and was pretty happy with the high five figure payday until I talked with my male colleagues.

Thrilled for me, they asked what percentage of success fee I got. Say wha? What success fee? I got paid. Well, I got schooled.

The boys were routinely adding a 1% success fee to their projects if successfully completed. I had screwed myself out of an $180k fee on top of my flat rate. Oy, I learned a big lesson and I’ll never forget to ask again.

Sure, this is a business client so you might be thinking it doesn’t apply to your family or immigration practice. It still applies. No, you can’t guarantee an outcome, but you can participate if your work leads to a great outcome for your clients.

These are just two of the alternative fee models that apply. What others could you try in your law firm? Flat fee + hourly rates? Give this some thought. Your clients will be happier and I think you will, too.


Dina Lynch Eisenberg, JD, is the CEO of, an outsourcing training/consulting firm for successful lawyers and entrepreneurs based in Oakland, CA.

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