This Site Adds Up

Calculator Tells Prospective Clients What the Bill Will Be

BY HOPE VINER SAMBORN

North Carolina attorney Lee Rosen’s Web-based calculator lets prospective clients who answer a few “yes” or “no” questions find the range for legal fees they would pay his firm in any divorce case.

The calculator, easily found at the Rosen Law Firm Web site, cautions that litigation fees are additional, but it provides a range for those services as well. And Rosen guarantees his fees will not exceed those ranges.

“It is a critical piece of information,” says Rosen, whose 10-lawyer firm is based in Raleigh. “When I go to a Web site, and I can’t figure out what a product costs, I have a terrible time deciding whether I want to consider the product.” That led him to develop the fee calculator in January.

Web-based fee calculators certainly aren’t commonplace, but Internet searches show a number of them at divorce and probate lawyer Web sites. Rosen, chair of the ABA Family Law Section’s Law Practice Management Committee, thinks that all practice areas can develop Web-based fee calculators.

Arthur G. Greene, a former chair of the ABA Law Practice Management Section and an expert on attorney billing practices, says using a Web-based calculator may be a problem for a lawyer if the range is not high enough to handle worst-case scenarios. It is difficult to predict what might occur in any case, making it hard to set an exact fee, even when you have met with a client for an hour, says Greene, of Dewhurst & Greene in Bedford, N.H. He added that such calculations would be harder to do without meeting a client first. “It could become unprofessional, if it doesn’t work well,” he says.

Rosen disagrees. “If someone at Lockheed can put a price on a jet, a lawyer can put a price on a case–the variables they deal with are so much more complicated than those we deal with,” Rosen says. “We should be expert enough in our areas of law so that we can do it.”

And he doesn’t think a fee calculator is unprofessional. “If anything degrades the profession, it is a client who is hit with an astronomical bill. …. Then they hate us, and when they hate one of us, they hate all of us.”

Before setting flat fees for cases six years ago, Rosen lawyers analyzed five years’ worth of cases. They considered their hourly fees, the time they spent on cases, and the variables that affected fees. Variables are regularly re-evaluated, and the calculator will be modified as needed.

The calculator also may prevent calls from clients who won’t pay Rosen’s rates for legal services. “Our call volume is down, but the number of people retaining us is up,” Rosen says. “Many people would have called about fees, but learned [from the calculator] that the fee was prohibitive for them and have decided not to call. It is great for us, because we don’t spend the resources with those couples.”

Rosen’s site is visited 2,500 times a day in a normal month. In January, a high divorce initiation month, the traffic is double that. And the calculator works to market the firm.

Jeremy Wallrich wasn’t shopping for an attorney when he accessed the Rosen site to find information to help him handle his own divorce.

But what he found was the calculator. “Things were getting kind of sticky, so I looked at what it would cost,” says Wallrich, whose divorce involves some custody and rental property issues. After seeing the fee, he decided to contact Rosen’s firm.

“It was within what I could afford,” he explains. “It gave me a little peace of mind, because I knew what I was going to spend.” Although his fees, paid upfront, were at the top end of the range, Wallrich was pleased.

©2003 ABA Journal

The American Bar Association

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