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- in Practice Management and Fees
- by Stephen Gustitis
I’ve been practicing criminal law in College Station exclusively since 1990 and I still think hard when setting fees in criminal cases. Besides a lawyer’s competence and experience the next most important issue to the client is how much the representation will cost. The fee should compensate the attorney appropriately for the effort they anticipate expending for the client. Additionally, the fee should be fair to the client – a price that’s hopefully within their acceptable range. But when setting fees a fee-for-service my habit is to always err on the high side, rather than the low. Here’s why.
When building the “perfect” law practice family law practitioner, Michael Sherman, once theorized: “Because of their dedication to extraordinary client service and value, lawyers at the Perfect Practice are able to charge premium fees. This does a number of things: it drives off low paying business that you should not want anyway; it allows you to focus on quality instead of quantity; and by reducing the number of cases it allows the staff and lawyers to deliver better service.”
I found this wisdom true in my practice of law. My fees are higher than average . . . on purpose. Clients who hire our firm get excellent and personalized service in their Bryan-College Station criminal defense matter. We’re able to work their cases harder since we carry a lighter caseload. Our response to questions is quicker, returned phone calls more reliable, and overall customer service superior because of the higher fees we quote in most criminal law cases.
A simple truth is that the best possible results come from a position of strength, not weakness. The only way to defend from a position of strength is to think “outside the box” to find innovative approaches relating to the specific set of circumstances for each client. To develop a strategy giving each client the best possible chance requires enormous effort to “think outside the box.” To get outside the box a criminal defense lawyer needs time. The fewer cases they handle at a premium fee, the more time the lawyer has to address specific client needs.
The defense lawyer should strive to charge premium fees in criminal cases to keep their caseload at levels where they can provide extraordinary client service. I can’t count the number of cases which turned on a fact or issue I wouldn’t have thought of – but for the time I spent thinking deeply about the case. The lawyers making a living on client volume are doing both their clients and themselves a disservice. Clients deserve the best effort we have but we can’t provide it when we are juggling 200 active criminal cases, managing the staff, paying the bills, going to court, spending time in recreation, and loving our families. Defense lawyers shouldn’t be afraid to charge premium fees and clients shouldn’t be afraid to pay them. Sure, the premium fee may discourage the price shopping prospects. But those clients are fooling themselves into believing they get quality service at a bottom dollar price.
Setting fees in criminal cases will always remain a risk for the committed Brazos County defense lawyer. However, running a business involves risk. Without risk there is no reward. Risk big – win big. Risk little – win little. Lawyers, don’t be afraid to charge the premium fee. Clients, don’t be afraid to pay it.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.