Finagling Flat Fees in Law Firms

Brita Long is the creator and founder of The Happier Attorney, LLC. She is an attorney, author, coach, entrepreneur and all around happy person. She has completely revolutionized the business of law in the firm that she owns, as well as helping lawyers across the country to do the same. Brita has practiced law for over twenty two years and she saw how happy people’s lives, including other attorneys, became when they ultimately adopted her business model. She also saw how happy people were negatively affected by the complexity, a lack of purpose and a mismatch between what they said was important in their life versus what their behavior showed was important in their life. Brita brings to us valuable resources, great perspective and some of the how-to of transitioning over to flat fees. In this episode we discuss some of the limiting beliefs that we have around that, like getting stuck in cases or managing communications and all of those things that would stop someone from adopting this particular business model.

Listen in to learn more!

In this episode we discuss:

  • Billing hourly versus billing a flat fee and the process of shifting from one to the other.
  • The mindset work needed for most attorneys to make a shift to flat fees.
  • How clients react to a flat fee structure.
  • Setting a flat fee based on previous cases that were billed hourly and the accuracy of tracking billable hours.
  • Reaching an outcome more quickly and easily than expected.
  • Fears of an ethics complaint to the bar for overcharging.
  • Managing the client that needs more hand holding than anticipated.

Allison Williams: [00:00:11] Hi everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.


Allison Williams: [00:00:25] All right. Hi, everyone, it’s Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor, and I’m really excited to bring you today’s episode. So today I had on the podcast Brita Long and I’m going to tell you a little bit about Brita in just a moment. But I want to just give you guys a little frame for this conversation. So Brita and I have had the occasion to meet each other. I think she’s a very bright attorney. She helps lawyers to transition their business over to flat fees instead of charging by the hour. She is a zealot in that regard. We actually are going to bring on another person who is a zealot in that regard. And she truly believes that the way to have freedom of time, energy resources in the in the practice of law is to charge flat fees. Now, I will share with you that Brita and I are not philosophically aligned in this particular belief. Usually when I bring a guest on it is so that they can share with you their perspective on how to do something, why to do something, etc.. So there wasn’t a whole lot of debate in this episode, but I will share that my philosophical view is that we don’t solve a problem by running away to do something else. Like in other words, we don’t say, I’m not capturing my time, so therefore I’ll do something that eliminates the need to or I’m not handling my money conversations with my clients well so I will find something that I don’t need to.


Allison Williams: [00:01:45] My personal view, and this is what I advise my clients, is that you have to evolve and grow into having those difficult conversations and to make them not difficult, to make them neutral. And so there’s a lot of money mindset that kind of gets implicated by this business model. So I actually am going to bring someone onto the podcast. So I think it’s going to be a fabulous resource to talk to you about money, mindset, issues and how you can be more financially successful without feeling like you are adversarial to your client in the process. Now, having said that, Brita and I still had a lot in common. We feel a lot of the same things about the ways that lawyers have been mishandled in the profession, the ways that unfortunately lawyers that make less money tend to be a greater target for ethics complaints because the hungry hustling broke lawyer is at the greatest risk to commit malfeasance is at the greatest risk to be worn out, be over tired, miss things in the practice. So there’s a lot here that that we can unpack that can add a great deal of value to your practice. But I just wanted to tell you that so that you’re on the listen out for ways that you can use flat fees and other things that you can take away from this conversation, even if you are not someone who is contemplating or currently using flat fees in the business of law.


Allison Williams: [00:03:08] So Brita is the creator and founder of The Happier Attorney, LLC. She is an attorney, a best selling Amazon author. She is a teacher, a coach and entrepreneur and all around happy person. And she is a mother, step mother, daughter, sister, wife, ex wife, business owner, amateur trapeze artists and has completely revolutionized the business of law in the firm, the firm that she owns, as well as helping lawyers across the country to do the same. She’s practiced law for over twenty two years and she saw how happy people’s lives, including other attorneys, became when they ultimately adopted this model. And she also saw how happy people were negatively affected by the complexity, a lack of purpose and a mismatch between what they said was important in their life versus what their behavior showed was important in their life. So Brita brings a lot of resources to us. She she shares with us a great perspective. She gives some of the how to of transitioning over to flat fees. We talk about some of the limiting beliefs that we have around that, like getting stuck in cases or managing communications and all of those things that would stop someone from adopting this particular business model. So we’re going to be bringing you more guests, talking about business models in the upcoming weeks. But for now, I bring to you my special guest, Brita Long. Welcome Brita Long to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast.


Brita Long: [00:04:38] Oh, thank you for having me.


Allison Williams: [00:04:40] So I love that we’re having this conversation because we both have Facebook groups and we both talk about different models of how to make money in law in our Facebook groups. And you have a group that’s dedicated to the topic of flat fees. And much to the surprise of many people, I actually respect and appreciate that there’s a value to flat fees. I am not I’m not a model agnostic. I don’t believe that flat fees is the only way and I don’t think it’s the best way. I think it’s best for certain people. I think it’s best in certain circumstances. But you are really a zealot about this. You kind of, I don’t want to say you’ve started a movement, but you definitely have embraced it. You have a voice in that space. And I wanted to bring you on to share your vast knowledge of how people can make this model work for them. So with that, let’s talk about how you came to the awareness that flat fees was the model that you wanted to go with and how you came to help other lawyers to do that same thing in your business.


Brita Long: [00:05:35] Ok, I had my own practice. I started it in two thousand and I was using hourly. I remember charging one hundred dollars an hour and thinking, oh my God. Oh, like, oh my gosh, somebody actually could pay me a hundred dollars an hour. Right. And this is starting out. So you don’t realize like you’re not making one hundred dollars an hour, obviously. But and I had grown my practice and I was kind of in the Empire Building stage and I had associates and big office and I was very important, you know. And I knew I had had some chaos in life and I knew that I needed simple. I knew I worked best with simple. Well, it turns out that I had ADHD, which was not diagnosed for many years later and until many years later. But I knew I needed simple. And I had the same issues that so many attorneys have with flat fees. I, I was working a lot and I was always behind. It always felt like, OK, one more case will get me over whatever hump. One more case. And I had the same issues with clients paying. I went to, I went to every practice management CLE I could go to. I probably went to more than almost any attorney I knew. I read the books. I did the things. And so a lot of attorneys, this was a surprise to me, have a real hard time even tracking their time. I mean, I’ve heard some numbers that are astonishing. I was religious about tracking my time. Period. I wrote amazing descriptions. I did the things they tell you to do. I wrote amazing descriptions like people didn’t question their bill, they just didn’t pay it.


Allison Williams: [00:07:46] Ok, so they understood it and they knew they owed it. They just said, I’m not paying that.


Brita Long: [00:07:52] Well, And I remember, you know, those I would send out statements on the twenty fifth of every single month because that’s what I had heard to do. So the bills were due on the 1st. And I remember every month it was on the twenty fifth. OK, who owes me what. OK, this person usually pays this, this person will probably pay this. This person ok, to see like what bills I could pay. Every month. And again, I just always felt like one more, one more, one more, and I just had this internal voice, call it gut, call it instant, call it whatever, that there has to be a better way. Like this is this isn’t right. But nobody else was charging flat fees. So then you kind of think you’re crazy. And I’m like, this is insane. And I had been a deputy prosecuting attorney before I started my own practice. And I knew that all of the criminal defense attorneys charged flat fees. And so I thought there has got to be a way, you know, we’re not talking about going to the moon, although we’ve done that. There’s got to be a way that I could translate what they do in criminal to family law. There’s got to be. And and I was like, even if I make less money, I don’t care.


Brita Long: [00:09:17] I have to get rid of, for lack of a better term, all of the gnats that are flying around my face. I can’t handle this and somehow, so I kind of did my own little thing and somehow I don’t I have no idea how I came across an ebook by Mark Chen, who is a great family law attorney, who’s written a bunch of books for the ABA, and he had a little ebook on flat feet, which was just such a halleluja because I was like, OK, I’m not crazy like somebody else has done this and he did it for family law, so I got that book, I devoured it and it was a short, easy read and I did my research and I started like I started within days. And my first quote was ten thousand dollars, which this was in like this was 15, 16 years ago. And I was in a smaller county. Not a poor county, but I’m not in Seattle, and it was ten thousand dollars, but I had the research behind me and they didn’t blink. And I was done. I was sold. I was like, we are done here. I would never, ever go back. And so over the years I tweaked it and I made Mark’s kind of model my own. And that’s how I started.


Allison Williams: [00:10:55] Wow. So there’s so much power in telling your story, because I think a lot of people, you know, a lot of people would have the same circumstance that you had like this. What I’m doing is not working and I want something else. And then I can see that there’s an opportunity. And then they would stop themselves. Right. And they would go into lawyer mode of overthinking over researching, overanalysing and putting five thousand rules in place before they do anything. And you just said, screw it, this is not working. I’m doing something else and boom, I’m going to take swift action. So what was it like for you when you took that first step into moving toward or even just doing like that first charge that you did? Right. That that first, here’s the flat fee. This is what it is. Sell it and boom, it’s done. Like, how did you even conceptually shift the entirety of your practice or the the the retainer fees that you had that you would already charge pursuant to an agreement, presumably with your clients over to this very different model that that was going to give you freedom that hadn’t yet materialized?


Brita Long: [00:11:54] I did that slowly and I would not… I would have done that differently if I could go back and do it over again, I would have offered existing clients, like when they get to a stage, a logical stage flat fees from there on out. But I did it slowly just with new clients. But it was, it was such instant relief. It was such instant relief that I I never look back, I mean, there was not any temptation to look back whatsoever, period. 


Allison Williams: [00:12:34] Well, I commend your bravery. No, I mean it like I think developing the the the strengthening the muscle of being able to take swift action when something has not just the intellectual stage of rightness, but it has the feeling state of rightness where we can say, I am not being successful in my life as I am. I have to go in a different direction and just say I’m going to make it work a different way because what I’m doing now is just not working for me, I think is a wonderful way of approaching life. So I want to talk about the mindset. Right, because you had to you know, you said, you know, doing it today, I wouldn’t do it the same way. And obviously, you learn from your battle scars, which is the reason why you’re so effective at helping others with this. But there there has to be a psychological, and a mindset shift when someone says the way that I make money is billing by the hour and I can bill more hours to make more money versus I can charge X dollars in one package and some people can say, yeah, you can charge X dollars, but there are so many things that could happen. What happens if the client runs away? What happens if communications get out of control? What happens if you have to return money? So there’s a lot of stuff that we’re going to talk about in terms of nuance. But I just want to talk about how you would advise a lawyer to first adopt the right mindset in order to even approach this as a practice model for their business.


Brita Long: [00:13:56] Well, when when I first, it’s interesting because I didn’t realize I didn’t have quite the mindset issues that most attorneys have. And it wasn’t until I started teaching flat fees. I really thought that like 80 percent was going to be the tools in teaching and 10, 20 percent mindset. And that is completely the opposite. Completely the opposite. And you have to get over being an attorney. You have to get over overcomplicating everything. I mean, only attorneys could turn the most simple of a transaction into a thing. Like this is this is how we buy everything every single day. This is how you buy your coffee in the morning. This is how you buy going to the dentist. This is how you buy everything. It’s not any more complicated than that. And to get over the fear with attorneys is to really, and I get like why attorneys are so scared, especially with the ethical issues. You know, we go to CLEs. Don’t get me started, we could go on a total rant about how people scare us with ethical issues. We go to CLEs and bar complaint, bar complaint, bar complaint and so we don’t… We get paralyzed like we don’t want to do anything. And it’s nonsense. It’s absolutely nonsense. So there certainly are things that you need to be aware of, but everything is fixable. This is really not brain surgery. And if you treat it like brain surgery, you’re going to get in trouble, if you treat it like, oh, I’m going to sell you this calculator. How much would you like to buy this calculator for? You can buy it for five dollars or you can buy it anywhere from one to ten dollars. We’re just going to put numbers in the hat and we’re going to draw it and that’s what you’re going to have to pay for it. Everyone that I’ve ever asked that says I just want to pay five dollars for it thinks that’s how our clients feel, too. So it’s not overcomplicating.


Allison Williams: [00:16:15] Yeah, well, I think you referenced the most important part at the end, which is how the clients feel about it. Right. So the power that you have in being able to communicate concisely, this is the value for the service that I’m going to provide to you, gives the client a certain level of freedom, of fear of the unknown that they’re already facing when they’re coming to you with whatever litigation transaction issue that they need resolved to. So you actually get a powerful communication with the client when you’re able to to go there. Wouldn’t you say?


Brita Long: [00:16:46] And I knew that before, I mean, clients love flat fees. They love flat fees when they understand that what it is and what the difference is. When they understand, yeah, you can go down the street and get in for five grand and that’s going to be gone instantly and then you’re going to keep owing and owing. You know, once they understand that. But it wasn’t until I had to hire an attorney after my dad died a couple of years ago that I that I really understood the impact of flat fees. I used to practice estate planning. I knew what this attorney was doing. I knew what she should be doing. I knew what was reasonable, what wasn’t, which all of which our clients don’t have, by the way. I cannot tell you, Allison. Every time I got a bill from her my stomach clenched. My stomach clenched. Now I have the money. I knew again, I knew what her bill should be. It was never out of line at all. Just opening that every month made my stomach clench. And that was on top of, you know, I was still mourning my dad. I didn’t need that, and it was just that little bit of irritation that I’m like, this is so stupid. I absolutely, and I think her bill turned out to be like less than three thousand dollars or something. I absolutely would have rather paid four thousand dollars just to be done. Absolutely. (Yeah.) Here’s your four thousand dollars. Be done. So that’s what it really clinched it with me is our clients, depending on the situation, but no situation generally they’re coming to you with great news. It’s still going to be annoying. And sometimes they’re in real crisis and the last thing they need is more stress. Oh, I just scrounged up three thousand dollars for last month’s bill. Oh, now I have to go and crap. Now I have to go find more money or even if they have it. To never know what something is going to cost. That’s that’s tough.


Allison Williams: [00:19:11] Yeah. So I want to explore that since we’re talking about cost. Because the money, the money consideration, there’s money considerations all over the issue of flat fees. Right. So you’ve got the lawyers resistance around selling. You’ve got the client’s resistance around receiving a bill and not having certainty around what they’re paying for. So there’s there’s money conversations and handling money issues that come up in any practice model, but in particular when you’re shifting to this model. So I want to actually explore the topic of your your consultation, your selling process. So I’ve heard from a lot of lawyers that want to do flat fees that they are afraid that they’re not going to be able to mount the psychological hurdle for that person who can’t just drop ten thousand dollars. It doesn’t feel like, yeah, I can write a check for fifty thousand dollars if you’re telling me that’s what my divorce is going to cost. They can psychologically get their mind around five thousand dollars or even ten thousand dollars as a retainer with the hope whether it’s illusory or not is a whole separate issue, but with the hope that you’ll mitigate costs, you’ll reduce damage, you’ll settle easily or quickly versus it’s fifty thousand dollars and then I pay you 50 and if we settle on day two that I’m out fifty thousand dollars. Right. And or the person who just says I can’t write a check that large. So how do you advise lawyers that really want to do this but can’t see their way clear to learning how to sell a much higher ticket item when there is so much available in the marketplace that is lower ticket, lower fee and an hourly fee or a or a retainer fee that’s just a lower starting point.


Brita Long: [00:20:44] Well, and that’s the thing. It it’s a lower starting point. When you look at what the truth is that that is all illusory. So when part of what I teach is to do some research, Number One to know what you have actually charged your past clients because we underestimate. And so the bottom line is when you go and do your research, depending on where you are and blah, blah, blah, don’t over think this, but a divorce actually does cost twenty five thousand dollars. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re going to pay. Period. And the uncontested yeah, I’ve had two truly uncontested cases in my entire life, so let’s not even go there, all of the, there are workarounds and there are ways to deal with each and every one of these issues. There is no issue that any attorney has brought up that I haven’t dealt with, that everybody else hasn’t dealt with. The problem is not the flat fee. The problem is the attorney. The problem isn’t even the client. The problem is the attorney. I know I’m going to make friends here. If you are able to, first of all, you have to believe in the price. You have to know. Yeah, actually, and the best example is when I did my research, I had a case in mind that I had done. If you would ask me, how much did you charge that client hand to God under penalty of perjury, I would have said ten, maybe fifteen thousand, like no more. When I went back and actually looked at the bills, I had charged her over 30. So we underestimate what it’s going to cost in our heads. So when some…


Allison Williams: [00:22:39] Let’s pause there for a second, because you said earlier that you were meticulous in actually tracking your time. And we know there’s a whole heck of a lot of lawyers that are not meticulous in tracking their time. So if they actually go through and see what they actually billed somebody and are now looking at a model where they’re supposed to be recouping all of the time or a reasonable fee that’s appropriate based on all the all the circumstances, risk included in there, all of that.


[00:23:04] Right. They probably are grossly undercharging when they are billing hourly because they’re not keeping track of their time versus when they switch over to a flat fee. The number might shock them because the number isn’t consistent with what they did. It’s consistent with what it should have been.


Brita Long: [00:23:20] Correct. Correct. And they’re going to have to multiply. So if you, and I’ve heard I’ve heard six hours a day, I’m not tracking. So… 


Allison Williams: [00:23:30] Well, that’s what the Clio Trends report says.


Brita Long: [00:23:31] Exactly. So it’s it’s being really honest with yourself and saying, OK, I know that I’m not tracking half, three quarters or whatever. So when I go back and do my research and let’s say I charge somebody ten thousand, I know it’s actually going to be 20 at least. So let’s start there. This is not rocket science. OK, you start and you experiment and move on. But when, so when the client comes to you. You have that data that this is what this is going to cost. 


[00:24:11] And you can get in… And then it’s communicating. Let’s get rid of that word selling. I know attorneys like freak out. All selling is is communicating to the potential why it’s in their best interest to hire you. And you have to believe in flat fees and you have to believe in what you are providing. And so many attorneys like have no idea what they’re actually even providing. So you know what makes me, I don’t want to even say better, different than the attorney down the street. OK. Well, the attorney down the street, you can get in. Let’s let’s pick a number. Let’s say I’m charging twenty thousand for this work. You can get in down there for five grand. And again, that is going to be gone instantly. Your first temporary hearing. Gone. And then you’re going to get a bill. You’re never going to know how much it’s going to be. It could be two hundred, it could be two thousand. But if you don’t pay it, you’re going to not have an attorney. And you’re going to get that bill every month.


Brita Long: [00:25:11] OK, with me, you know what this is going to cost. Now, then the… if it’s really a simple case, it’s uncontested, da, da, da. And we all know that that’s bullshit. OK, and what I would say to, and that actually did not come up half as much as I thought it would. And that’s the other thing. The issues do not come up as much as attorneys think they will. But I would tell them. I hope so. I hope you’re right. My experience is that they’re not as simple as people think. It’s like me saying, oh, that brain surgery is simple because it looks simple, but the brain surgeon did it. Right. And I would say if it turns out that, you know, it’s truly uncontested. I’m not charging you 20 grand. Now, with that said, if it’s uncontested because I put in a notice of appearance and the other side is like, oh, Brita’s on the case and you know, I’ll settle. I’ll settle. Whatever you want. Then I need to be compensated for that, maybe not 20 grand. But that’s the value that I’m bringing to the table, so… And I I know attorneys get freaked out because some of this is a little wishy washy and you have to use your instinct. And it’s not just this cut and dry. This is what you charge. This is what you give back. It’s not. And that’s OK. You can… It’s OK.


Allison Williams: [00:26:43] Yeah. The wishy washy part is probably, like you said, where, where attorneys really get stuck. I remember I was as a as a younger attorney, I was trained by a prosecutor. He was a, he was the former first assistant prosecutor in our county. And he came over. He was a criminal defense attorney working at the large firm where I started. And I went around looking for mentors. And I literally, I was the kid that was like, you look brilliant, teach me something. Right? And I was sitting at bended knee one day. And he’s on the phone with a with a client. He said, yeah, that’ll be fifteen thousand dollars. So this is what we’re going to do. We kind of like said, step by step. I’m going to call the prosecutor. I’m going to say this. He’s going to say this. He’s going to haggle a bit. I’m going to throw out the fact that he’s going to be humiliated if I go into court and blah, blah, blah, and then we’re probably going to get a good deal and we might have to negotiate a good deal. But ultimately, it’ll be a good deal. It’ll be better than what you’re ever going to get if you go to trial and you’re going to pay me fifteen thousand dollars for it because you know that I am going to get to the result that is desired. Now, of course, all lawyers would say, you’re not exactly allowed to say… But of course, he knew what he could do so client came in that afternoon, paid fifteen thousand dollars, literally less than twenty four hours later, he had a deal on the table that was better than what he better than what the attorney suggested was going to happen. And the client was thrilled. The client, it never even occurred to the client that I was paying fifteen thousand dollars for the phone calls and the emails and the letters, like they were paying for the outcome that they desired. Right. Whether they… 


Brita Long: [00:28:11] It wasn’t the. No, of course, we can’t guarantee results. I think what… Put yourself in a client’s position. What I want as a client is to know that every, that I have the best chance I could have. 


Allison Williams: [00:28:29] Right,


Brita Long: [00:28:29] That every stone has been overturned and it is what it is. But I want to I think in terms of like a medical professional, OK, I can’t if I’m rushed into surgery, I don’t think, oh, this person is going to guarantee that I’m going to live. But I want the best shot available, right? That’s what your clients are paying for.


Allison Williams: [00:28:56] Yeah, and it is like you said, it’s communicating, right? So, you know, we have a whole process here at Law Firm Mentor that we teach people about the questions to ask to get the person into the frame of mind, to recognize the connection between their problem and your solution. But there are a lot of people that just don’t have that framework and they’re so afraid of saying the number. It’s like you get to the part where we’re supposed to like say we’re supposed to seal the deal. And it’s like that’ll be…


Brita Long: [00:29:21] We call it the vomit number. Right. A student came up with that. A student came up with this is my barf number. And it is. It should be in between a little excited and a little scary. And it can be scary. But again, if you believe in it and you know why it’s best for your client. And here’s why it’s not as difficult as you think. And once people start paying it, then you’re like, OK, actually this is OK. And here’s the bottom line. Pick your poison. You can continue to do things the way they are. Or you can use flat fees and undercharge all the time, or you can have that discomfort or you can have discomfort for a couple of seconds. And move through it. Pick your poison. Yeah, but at the end of the day, I see attorneys… Mark Chen had a great quote in his book and I think I haven’t read his book in a long time. I keep attributing it to him, so I hope it’s from him. The greatest threat to the legal profession is a broke attorney. I absolutely agree with that. And when there was just a feed on my Facebook group on attorneys who were charging far too low and it was alarming to me. And when attorneys think that they’re doing good by charging low prices, I have a completely different take on that. And so I will ask, how are you harming your clients by undercharging?


Allison Williams: [00:31:05] Yeah.


Brita Long: [00:31:06] Well, we all have, if you have a law practice, it takes so much money to run. Period. And if you want to take some money home, which I don’t know why you’re doing this, if you don’t, then you have to add that. So you can have, I’m making up numbers here again. Don’t over attorney this. You can have five clients a month, and make whatever or you can have twenty five and make the same amount. What kind of job what kind of better job are you doing with five versus twenty five? And my first podcast in January is with an ethics attorney, and we talked about the bar getting involved with far more attorneys who undercharge than overcharge because the bar understands… First of all, I have yet to have anyone interested in my work who had any notion of overcharging ever. And the bar understands. It’s a numbers game. If you have to make that and you’re undercharging, that means you have to bring in more people and more people. We only have twenty four hours in a day. (Yeah.) And that means you’re not spending the time. And I guess it’s what you want. Do you want to be a mill or do you want to spend quality time with your clients and really dig down deep and be able to say you did a great job on that case. Period.


Allison Williams: [00:32:45] Yeah. So Brita. I love that you’re talking about the ethics piece of it, because you’re right. Lawyers do like, as soon as they hear ethics, they kind of like the wall goes up, the the shock of the heart comes out. But one of one of my partners is actually on the fee arbitration committee here in New Jersey. And one of the things that that we have talked about in our firm and that she’s talked about on the committee is this idea of, you know, it isn’t necessarily wrong that someone disagrees about the reasonableness of your fee. Like there’s there’s clearly egregious behavior, right? If somebody were to to contest a fee where you charge them fifty thousand dollars for one phone call that you placed, there are times in certain contexts, depending on the the states like the kind of the criminal defense case I referenced earlier, where that could be OK. If you’re if you’re charging them fifty thousand dollars for an email that you’re sending to an adversary to say, I represent and then they want the money back, you’re probably not going to get away with that, at least in our jurisdiction. Right.


Brita Long: [00:33:45] Of course,


Allison Williams: [00:33:45] Chasm in between and that chasm between, OK, someone disagrees with you and they disgorge your fee. Like the vast majority, they’re not going to say you get zero. You know, so and I tell people this all the time, like it’s not about doing the wrong thing. It’s about doing what you believe is the right thing based on the rules. And if you happen to be wrong, that’s not typically where lawyers get into ethics problems.


Brita Long: [00:34:08] Correct.


Allison Williams: [00:34:09] It happens to be that they disagree and they say, no, you owe this person money back or no, this person doesn’t owe you more money. But it isn’t that they’re going to be disbarred. Disbarment comes when we’re stealing from our clients. Right. And that’s not charging them a high fee. That’s outright stealing from them. And psychologically, I think we have to get out of this running scared from the bar like, oh,


Brita Long: [00:34:29] Amen.


Allison Williams: [00:34:30] Look at the decision…


Brita Long: [00:34:31] Amen.


Allison Williams: [00:34:32] What comes out that gets a lawyer censured, reprimanded or God forbid, disbarred? It’s not charging a high fee and it’s not even charging a fee when you are not performing all the transactions. Because one of the things we also like to talk about here at Law Firm Mentor is that if you do charge a high fee, your fee needs to be taking into account how much time you would have spent. So you shouldn’t say if it’s hourly, I’d make fifteen thousand dollars, but if it’s flat, I make one hundred or I make five hundred. Right. You should have some reasonable understanding of how much time it takes you so that you have…


Brita Long: [00:35:05] That’s one factor. That is one factor out of many in deciding a fee. (Yeah) The time spent. One. Yeah. And we are so scared of ethics and I practice family law. I’ve had bar complaints. They’ve all gone away very easily. I remember the first bar complaint I had, it was scary as heck, and it was actually not even the complaint. It was the dismissal. Because a criminal, a defendant filed a bar complaint when I was a prosecuting attorney saying I lied to the jury when I told the jury that he was guilty. Find him guilty. Well, OK. So, I mean, anyone can file a complaint. And I know you don’t want them. They’re a pain. They’re scary. And at the end of the day, if you did not violate a rule that’s actually written down, not rules that we add in our head, which I see plenty of attorneys doing. Like people say, well, you can’t do that. I’m like, well, can you show me the rule? Well, there’s not a rule. But somebody said in a CLE. OK, there’s either a rule or an opinion or there’s not. Like you’re an attorney. Advocate for yourself. Think for yourself. Like there is a rule or there’s not. I mean, think of how that bar hearing would go. Well, you’re getting in trouble, but there’s no rule here. I mean, that’s absurd, right? But attorneys do that all the time and, even if you did get the bar complaint. A, even if you screwed up. It’s fixable. The bar is not interested in disbarring you unless you are stealing from your client, unless you are trying to screw your client. All of that, which is not even, if you’re doing things properly, not even in the realm of possibilities. And no, they are not going to get into fee disputes unless there is something else there that is a huge red flag. No, they are not going to say you charged 30 and you should have charge 20. That’s not


Allison Williams: [00:37:14] Right.


Brita Long: [00:37:15] It’s not going to happen.


Allison Williams: [00:37:16] Right. And we know that there are some bars that are what I would refer to as. A bit on the predatory side,


Brita Long: [00:37:25] I haven’t heard of any that aren’t.


Allison Williams: [00:37:27] Yeah, but there are ways to protect against that, right? So everything you should do in business should have a system. And if you have a system that’s well thought out, even if they disagree with your system, ultimately that’s a redirect. That’s, of course correct. Like you said, it’s fixable. So that shouldn’t be a reason to stop you. But we, of course, know that lawyers are going to go into lawyer brain and they’re going to come up with all of these all of these reasons why, oh, my God, this won’t work or is too scary. So the one that I hear a lot and I know that you have probably encountered this. I’ve seen it actually in your group, is especially with family law attorneys. It’s in other areas as well. But family law tends to evoke a strong amount of emotion for people. They’re going through their own psychological redefinition of themselves that causes a certain level of distress that may be in other areas that are stressful are not quite as exaggerated. And there’s the communication factor. Right. So if you have a client that is very emotionally needy, one of the things that lawyers will use to suppress them from calling every day, emailing every day, needing to talk to you every day and becoming kind of your your next best friend is to say to them, listen, every time you call here, I’m billing you. Right. We need to. We need to set a time that we’re going to communicate and we’ll keep you apprized. But we can’t communicate every day because you’re having an emotion. Go get a therapist. Go get a friend. I’m not the one. That doesn’t necessarily work the same way with a flat fee arrangement because the fee is the fee, whether I call you once or I call you five hundred times. So how do you advise that a lawyer would deal with that in a flat fee context so that they can also keep their clients making reasonable demands, keep their clients having a reasonable amount of communications?


Brita Long: [00:39:09] So here’s where taking one hundred percent responsibility comes in and attorneys are not going to like what I have to say. That is not a flat fee issue. That is an attorney issue. That is a you issue. That is a you not having boundaries with your client from the get go. Healthy boundaries and not communicating those boundaries with your client. Period. Or not enforcing those boundaries. Once, the, once you don’t enforce it, the cows out of the barn. So that that, it’s not a flat fee problem. That is making it very clear from the get go what this relationship looks like. When is it appropriate for them to call you and when is it not. What does an emergency look like? When do you want them to call you or email you? I have had in all of my cases, I had three cases that, one case, my client had huge a anxiety disorder and she was legitimately going to need more handholding. OK, so we set up a scheduled time to talk every week. Even if it was two minutes, she just needed that touch. And I charged for that. There was an extra fee for that. And if you’ve been practicing more than a day. You can feel in the initial, if you’re being honest with yourself, the initial, OK, this person is going to need more. Charge for that. I had another client who her uncle was paying the fee and her uncle had talked to me a couple of times, which made me nervous because for obvious reasons, like I was, and he was an attorney.


Brita Long: [00:41:12] So is this guy going to try and direct? He wasn’t. He called first time to pay the fee, a second time to say, you know what? She is going to need more handholding. I don’t want that to be me. So what do you want? I charged an extra 10 grand. The third was. A little bit more difficult in that I didn’t get how much handholding she was going to need, and so and she started pushing it. She started pushing. So we first set up a, OK, you get. One week, every week, we’ll touch base for two minutes. OK? She started pushing that. And this was not stuff that she legitimately needed. I mean, there was no information that she… So the next thing I did was, this is really important. You need to come into my office once a week. Stopped it immediately. Stopped it immediately. Serious, like there were no other issues, so there again, that’s not a flat fee problem. That is an attorney issue, not wanting to have those uncomfortable conversations from the beginning. And it’s so much better to have them in the beginning. You’re not hurting the client’s feelings. They don’t know what this relationship is supposed to be. And depending on the case, we get very personal with our clients. It can feel like, you know, they think we’re their friend. (Yeah.) So it’s important to have those boundaries ahead of time. You wouldn’t call your psychologist every week. (Yeah.) You wouldn’t just call and expect to talk to them.


Allison Williams: [00:43:07] Well, I think it’s it’s a it’s a brilliant point, actually, because even if you’re not using flat fees, I still think you should have a communications policy with your clients. And you still need to set the tone as to what your relationship needs to be with your clients so that you don’t get into the situation where they’re calling and you’re just not returning the phone calls. That tends to lead to grievances or you’re you’re putting them off on your staff. So then instead of harassing you, they’re harassing your paralegal or your receptionist. You know, and I think that lawyers need to get out of the habit, frankly, of using money as the dysfunctional tool that you can use to punish the client. So that when you tell a client, you know, all right, so I’m here to help you. I’m supposed to be your source for everything regarding this legal matter. And I’m going to get you a great result and I’m going to get all the information and advocate for you. And I’m on your side and I’m on your side and I’m on your side. But don’t call me. Or you can call me, but I’m going to punish you by by charging you.


Brita Long: [00:44:04] Punish you a month later. A month later.


Allison Williams: [00:44:08] Right. So the punishment doesn’t even like become the punishment until it’s realized. And then by that time it’s forgotten. It’s just becoming like a sore. 


Brita Long: [00:44:15] Right. I mean, it’s like a kid. You know.


Allison Williams: [00:44:17] And then they get mad. 


Brita Long: [00:44:19] You don’t punish the kid a month later.


Allison Williams: [00:44:20] Right. They don’t understand why the client doesn’t want to pay the bill. But you’ve used money as kind of the hammer over their head. Try to teach them to leave you alone. And that energy gets transferred. My clients very much realize when they are being treated like the pest of their of your relationship. So, I mean, there’s this really we can talk about this like all year. I mean, you are such a wealth of knowledge about different ways that you can coach lawyers through how to use this model, employ this model, get over the hang ups, the internal stories that they are creating as a barrier that don’t really exist but exist in our minds. So I want to actually now give that resource to our community. So tell people how they can work with you directly, how you can help people to adopt a model of flat fees in their law firms.


Brita Long: [00:45:07] Well, the the first place is to, on Facebook. They can join Attorneys and Flat Fees Facebook group. You have to be an attorney or law student. The second place is my website, which is just Brita Long dotcom BRITA LONG dot com. And you can look at and you can get my book also The Happier Attorney that is on Amazon. But my website is where you can really get into some meat. We have a coaching program with video lessons that I teach you, everything you could ever want to know about flat fees, and that is for people who are not, are using hourly now or using flat fees, but know that they could use them better. Now, I also do more internal coaching with attorneys to really dig down deep into, I don’t even want to say mindset, but more gut instinct and more figuring out really why they’re doing what they’re doing, because, as you know, so many of us attorneys have issues and whether it be money issues or whatever issues and how we do one thing is how we do everything. And so to really dig deep into figuring out some of their issues. So that is how and I have workshops all of the time. So I have a workshop coming up on learning how to listen to your instinct, especially as an attorney. Right. Which so many of we are so taught to overthink. And we ignore our instinct, and that is my argument is that is a very dangerous place to be. It’s all in your head.


Allison Williams: [00:47:02] I could not agree more. I absolutely think that one of the greatest things that we commit as lawyers is that we try to think our way out of things instead of the integration of thinking and feeling. Right. So we shut off a whole source of information because it doesn’t have a spreadsheet attached to it. And then we say, dang, I got a bad result. I knew that was coming. 


Brita Long: [00:47:23] Right. And we lie to ourselves all the time. We lie to ourselves all of the time.


Allison Williams: [00:47:30] Yeah, well, hopefully with coaching from someone like you, they ultimately can get in touch with how they can be more effective. Flat fees, of course is only one thing that you help with. You help with a lot of different areas. And we have a client in common. And I know that she speaks so highly of you and that you were just able to get her revolutionized in the area of using flat fees in her practice. So I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in adopting flat fees in your law firm that you reach out to Brita. We’re going to include her contact information in the show notes to this podcast. And I want to thank her for being our special guest here on the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. Of course, she’s a great resource. She is a friend of Law Firm Mentor. And we welcome her to come back any time to talk about anything that really is going on in her world of flat fees. She’s just such a great resource for the bar and for attorneys that really want to adopt a different model of business. I am Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Everyone have a great day.


Allison Williams: [00:48:36] Thank you for tuning in to the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned, check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement free Facebook group. There, you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, and join the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day.

Guest Bio: 

Brita Long is the creator & founder of The Happier Attorney LLC. She is an attorney, Amazon bestselling author, teacher/coach, entrepreneur and all-around happy person.She has been a mother, stepmother, daughter, sister, wife, ex-wife, business owner, amateur trapeze artist, has wing walked over the Salish Sea, and has saved two homes from certain death. Brita practiced law for over 22 years and saw how people’s lives—including other attorneys—were negatively affected by complexity, a lack of purpose, and a miss match between what they said was important in their life vs what their behavior showed was important in their life. Brita struggled for many years to create a life that fit her and that she loved. A life of being honest with herself (or at least giving it a good go), valuing herself and her work, and being true to herself. Brita now teaches/coaches other attorneys on how they too can identify and then reduce or eliminate the thought patterns, and behavior that is getting in their way and preventing them from living the life they truly want to live.


Company: The Happier Attorney


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Phone Number: 15128151105

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Allison Bio:

Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.


Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017.  In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.


In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers.  She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money.  Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.


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00:23:04 AllisonWilliams(1 Minute7 Seconds) Right. They probably are grossly undercharging when they are billing hourly because they’re not keeping track of their time versus when they switch over to a flat fee. The number might shock them because the number isn’t consistent with what they did. It’s consistent with what it should have been.

Brita Long

Correct. Correct. And they’re going to have to multiply. So if you, and I’ve heard I’ve heard six hours a day, I’m not tracking. So…Allison WilliamsWell, that’s what the Clio Trends report says.Brita LongExactly. So it’s being really honest with yourself and saying, OK, I know that I’m not tracking half, three quarters or whatever. So when I go back and do my research and let’s say I charge somebody ten thousand, I know it’s actually going to be 20 at least. So let’s start there. This is not rocket science. OK, you start and you experiment and move on. But when, so when the client comes to you. You have that data that this is what this is going to cost.


00:28:59 Allison Williams(53 Seconds)So, you know, we have a whole process here at Law Firm Mentor that we teach people about the questions to ask to get the person into the frame of mind, to recognize the connection between their problem and your solution. But there are a lot of people that just don’t have that framework and they’re so afraid of saying the number. It’s like you get to the part where we’re supposed to like say we’re supposed to seal the deal. And it’s like that’ll be…

Brita Long

We call it the vomit number. Right. A student came up with that. A student came up with this is my barf number. And it is. It should be in between a little excited and a little scary. And it can be scary. But again, if you believe in it and you know why it’s best for your client. And here’s why it’s not as difficult as you think. And once people start paying it, then you’re like, OK, actually this is OK. And here’s the bottom line. Pick your poison.