There is a British adage, « penny wise is pound foolish ». It generally refers to making decisions to save pennies that end up costing considerably more. However if you are paying legal counsel on an hourly basis, your legal bills for immigration matters are likely costing you considerably more than paying on a fixed fee basis. Despite this adage, you should consider requesting a restructuring of the financial terms with your immigration legal counsel. Here are four reasons why it is more advantageous for you to pay your attorney on a fixed fee basis to handle your immigration needs, on non litigious matters.
1. Fixed fees cost less
Law firms that charge hourly fees use several practices that can increase the cost of legal services without necessarily increasing the quality of the work. Many law firms place ongoing pressure on their partners to bill a certain number of hours each month in order to meet costly overheads. This pressure forces lawyers to « pad » their billings with unnecessary charges for research, phone conferences and e-mails to clients. Furthermore, it is common for law firms to hire entry-level and junior lawyers or even paralegals to perform work on behalf of senior lawyers who are able to bill their clients for much or all of the work at the senior lawyers’ higher hourly rates. Some firms engage in a practice of adding a result-oriented surcharge bonus in instances where they know the client was contented with the positive outcome of a case. All of these practices lead to higher costs for the client. On the other hand, if you agree to a fixed fee with your immigration attorney before work on your file begins, the attorney will be unable to increase the cost of legal services by using any of the practices mentioned above. With fixed fee arrangements, you pay for the efficient resolution of your case and nothing more.
2. Fixed fees bring certainty
Charging a fixed fee creates certainty for both attorney and client. For attorneys, it is beneficial to know in advance how much they are going to earn from working on a specific case. This financial certainty allows the attorney or the firm to make economically efficient financial and manpower decisions regarding the number of hours and lawyers they are going to allocate to work on a given file.
From the client’s perspective, the financial certainty that comes with a fixed billing practice is a significant benefit. Many clients who are billed by the hour become more and more anxious the longer a case takes to resolve as this means they will also be charged higher fees. Fixed fees allow a client to know how much he or she will be spending from the outset and this helps brings more certainty to the client with regards to any other personal budgetary concerns.
3. Fixed fees ensure that the lawyer absorbs the cost of delays
There is a direct relationship between the billing method used for legal services and the speed with which these legal services become accomplished. When an attorney charges by the hour, there is financial motivation to accomplish the task slowly, as the more hours the lawyer works on the case, the more fees the lawyer charge. This relationship between slow work and financial gain is the main cause for the exorbitant fees that are sometimes charged by lawyers for services such as additional research or engaging in lengthy phone calls. Law firms that charge by the hour know that dragging their heels on a case will bring higher fees.
On the other hand, when a law firm charges under a fixed fee basis, they are motivated to work on the case as quickly and efficiently as possible. On a fixed fee system, profit comes not from working slowly, but from working efficiently and bringing a case file to a satisfactory result as quickly as possible.
4. Fixed fees create trust between lawyer and client
Given all of the arguments above, it comes as no surprise that a fixed billing system can lead to a more trusting and amicable relationship between attorney and client. It removes an otherwise conflict of interest between a lawyer’s objective for higher billings and the client’s interest in receiving a timely resolution of the case at the lowest cost. With a fixed billing system, both client and attorney have the same goal: resolving the case file as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. When the cost of a legal service is agreed to in advance, it removes an appearance of a conflict of interest and creates an environment of trust and open communication. It creates an environment where both lawyer and client feel free to speak to each other about how a case is being handled and make changes where necessary.
In Canada, immigration is an area of law where the rules change very frequently and delays are common. The practice in this area often involves dynamic interplay between multiple government regulatory bodies. Effective legal counsel in the current landscape demands the input of practitioners with long standing experience and creativity to assuage historical perspective in the industry to structure effective strategies. Under a fixed billing policy, a corporate or individual client need not be concerned that experienced professionals will result in higher legal fees. Once the terms of representation are formalized, the main focus of both lawyer and client becomes resolving the case as efficiently and effectively as possible for all parties concerned.
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About the author:
Colin R. Singer is immigration counsel for www.immigration.ca and Managing Partner of Global Recruiters of Montreal. He is one of Canada’s foremost senior corporate immigration attorneys. Colin is internationally recognized as an experienced and recommended authority on Canadian immigration and foreign recruitment. In addition to being licensed human resources professional, he is a licensed Canadian lawyer in good standing with the Quebec Law Society for more than 25 years and is authorized by the Canadian government in all immigration matters across Canada.