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Save on Legal Costs – Hints and Tips

Bankrate/CNBC just posted an article titled, “7 Ways to Save on Legal Advice” written by G.M. Filisko.

I have previously discussed the need for a professional when it comes to estate planning and advanced personal finance moves.  Well, professionals are usually expensive in terms of out of pocket up front costs (vs. money & time saved over the long term).  Mr. Filisko’s article means well, but I think most of the “advice” misses the mark.


Save on Legal Costs

Mr. Filsko offers 7 ‘tips.’

  1. Don’t Pay for more Lawyer than you Need
  2. Offer to carry some of the load
  3. Seek a set fee
  4. Request a Discount for Repeat Business
  5. Hire a document preparer
  6. Look for Group Discounts
  7. Turn to software

Number One – I completely agree with this sediment.  You generally do not need a white shoe firm to close on your first home.

Number Two – This is scary and can be kind of annoying, but I guess this would depend on the time of law you practice.  They use the example of patents, but I know I would be charging the same amount if someone attempted to write a Trust that I had to re-write anyway.

Number Three – This is interesting and would depend what you are seeking from your relationship with your attorney.  Are you looking for a quickie real estate closing? or are you looking for a continuous relationship?

Number Four – Alright this one makes sense.

Number Five – I don’t think we have this in NY so I am not sure where they are going with it.

Number Six – This one is in line with Number Four

Number Seven – NO NO NO NO NO. I couldn’t disagree with this more than I do.  You are seeking legal counsel cause you need help with something that needs critical thinking.  As of today (2009) I haven’t seen legal software which does an adequate job thinking with/for you (if you are a legal software company and want me to review something I will).  The article interviews an attorney who charges $8,500 for estate documents; well, if that were your only option, yeah, maybe then the software is where you are going…but there are other options.

Extra Hints to Save on Legal Costs

I think the article misses the biggest one – Do not be the attorney’s first client in that area.  They shouldn’t be learning on your dime! If you have a buddy that is an estate attorney (cough cough), and then you ask him or her to handle your divorce at an hourly rate…you are going to be shocked when your bill represents 10 hours of just learning the area of law!

Similarly, use an attorney that is comfortable with what you are looking to handle.  If  you are using a solo/small firm do not be shy in asking, what are of the law your comfortable with.  I say it often to people in my life, “I have never handled a criminal case – and I would not be alright starting with yours.”



  1. Setting a fixed fee is definitely the best way to control legal costs. The difficulty is trying to find a lawyer who will act for a fixed fee and knowing what level to set the fee at that is fair to both you and the lawyer.

  2. @ Simon Gibbs:

    I think, thanks to this economic downturn, you can find a lot more attorneys who have “seen the light” and turned away from the hourly rate. The flat fee is staging a comeback (before the advent of the hourly rate it was the main billing method) as it can control costs and make legal services more affordable for the small business/individual while giving some relief to attorneys burdened by the “billable hour” mandate that has made burn out endemic in the industry.

    As for setting a mutually agreeable fee, it isn’t as tough as some attorneys make it out to be. One key is to stop thinking of the attorney’s product as “time” and start thinking of it as a “solution” that is being provided to the client. Thus, “what is it worth to the client to get the end result the attorney is promising?” Some will pay more, some will pay less, but the result is still a happy client and, hopefully, an attorney who is comfortable with the fee received for the effort expended.


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