Conflict of interest screening. Before discussing any new legal matter, the attorney and client must make sure there are no “conflicts of interest.” What that generally means is that attorney cannot represent a client in a matter that is adverse to another client. However, this a gross over-simplification of the attorney conflict-of-interest rule. (See Rule 3-310 of the Cal. Rules of Professional Conduct.) Suffice it to say an attorney must know who a potential client’s adverse persons and parties are before the attorney can begin discussing a potential client’s new matter. In other words, who does the client want to sue or who is suing the client; and who are the adverse witnesses? All of the potentially adverse persons need to be identified before an attorney can discussing a potential client’s legal matter.
Confidentiality. An attorney’s most important duty to a client is the duty of confidentiality. California law provides that it is the duty of an attorney to “maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client.” (Bus. & Prof. Code §6068(e).) The attorney-client privilege can be traced all the way back to the Roman Republic, and its use was firmly established in English law as early as the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century.
Prior to start of the attorney-client relationship many attorneys will treat a potential client’s initial contact as being confidential, but that understanding needs to be expressly reached before discussing any confidential information,
Retaining an attorney: the fee or engagement agreement. California law generally requires a written fee agreement, signed by both the attorney and client. (At the Turner Law Firm, until we have a signed written fee agreement, we cannot and will not provide any legal advice.)
The Hourly Fee Arrangement: Abraham Lincoln said: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Stated another way: “The service the lawyer renders is his professional knowledge and skill, but the commodity he sells is time.” (Reginald Heber Smith)
Most matters at the Turner Law Firm are by an hourly fee agreement. Under an hourly fee arrangement, the client is charged the time the attorneys, paralegal and law clerk spend working on the case, at the agreed upon rates. The time is billed in 0.1 (1/10 ) or 6 minute increments. The time billed includes, but may not be limited to: time spent in court; time traveling to court; time reviewing documents; time spent preparing documents, such as complaints, answers, motions, discovery requests (such as subpoenas), discovery responses, and letters and emails to opposing counsel and the client; researching facts and laws; and communicating with the client about the case. (For example, sending even a short email to a $325 an hour attorney could result in a $32.50 charge.)
Budgets and Estimates: we try to provide budgets and estimates in every matter. However, many legal matters, including litigation, is an evolving process and there are two main things beyond an attorney’s control that can determine the amount of time any particular matter will take to resolve: the court (judge); and opposing counsel. As most matters progress, the budgeting certainty improves. Thus, we often provide “rolling” estimates or budgets, based on what we know about the case at a given time.
Costs. In addition to the fees or time, the client is also responsible for “costs,” which includes such items as: court filing fees; court reporter fees for depositions; attorney service charge for filing and serving court papers; outside vendors for copying and scanning; expert witnesses and consultants.
Contingency Fee Arrangement: Under this arrangement, the attorney gets paid only if there is a recovery. Generally, the attorney’s fee is a percentage of the gross amount recovered for the client. For most matters, there is a sliding scale percentage based on the complexity of the case, and how long I have to litigate before a recovery is obtained. This sliding scale approach is generally fairer than one flat rate because it compensates according to the amount of work that goes into the case, and provides an incentive for a client to settle a case earlier in the process.
Flat fee Arrangement: For certain types of matters, a flat fee may be possible. Generally flat fee arrangements are limited to transactional matters, such as preparing a contract. However, sometimes flat or capped fee arrangements are possible for certain phases of litigation.
The Hybrid Arrangement: The hybrid agreement is a combination of the above, and sometimes involve reducing standard hourly rates and the contingency percentages.