Is fee setting simple?  No.  But, these days, I’m hearkening back to classes in Property Law, during this just post-bar exam period.  I probably knew at one point, but I can no longer recall, what the difference between a fee simple and a fee tail is.  (Well, really, I can; but, for purposes of advancing this discussion, let’s just pretend I can’t.)  But, I’m not even going to link out to definitions, because I really don’t care anymore.  That is the beauty of having passed the bar exam; I don’t have to worry about it.  I hope that all of you out there have who have just taken the bar will experience the same legally-sanctioned joy someday soon . . . unless you’re going to be a real estate attorney.  In that case, forget something like the Palsgraf case.  Nope, not up in here, either.

No, fee setting is not so easy; and, perhaps that’s why attorneys, often, only do it once.  And, while ‘set it and forget it’ is a great concept for a rotisserie ovento be sold over countless infomercial replays, it’s a business model that does not work quite so well for law firms.  Even though your rates may stay static, the value of what you did will not, based on a number of factors, including, but limited to: inflation; your increasing skill level; the increasing complexity of the matters you handle; material changes to your business/practice; and, etc.  And, since your rates should, ultimately, recapture for you the value of what you do (or, at least, come close to it), your rates must keep pace with changing valuations.  No attorney retires charging the same rates he did when he was starting out; and, there is a lot that can happen in between.  Many attorneys adopt rates and change fee structures in a haphazard manner, at random time intervals, based on a collection of unrelated triggers; and, this mirrors, in many cases, the way that they set those rates in the first place.  However, you can get a better handle on the value of your work, and how you can recapture that value through charged fees, if you review your rates on a regular basis, with an eye toward certain effective criteria.

So, review your fee structure every so often, within whatever time frame is most effective for you and your practice: quarterly, biannually, annually.  You should also review your fee structure when there has been a material change to your business: you take on a new partner; you add a practice area (review your rates across practice areas); you add a major new client account; etc.  When you review your fees, analyze your work in particular practice areas by figuring out what it ‘costs’ you to do the things that you do for your clients.  How much time does it take you to complete certain projects–drafting an easement, for example?  What are the associated and/or up-front costs for certain jobs?  Consider your practice outside of a vacuum, as well.  Who are your competitors in your geographic region, including any upstarts, new from the last time you checked?  What do your competitors charges for similar services?  Are your rates too far out of line with what has become the norm?

Newer attorneys, who lack a historical record, that might also inform this consideration, can make the most of this exercise by using it as an opportunity to access mentors (you’re not asking for others’ rates, you’re asking about how they set their rates, which is a different, more innocuous, question), to establish effective strategies for fee setting and to perform a market review.  Even those attorneys who utilize flat fees can effectively assign value to what they do, including by tracking their time.  Certainly, there are practice areas where you won’t be changing your fee structure at all, such as contingency-based practices, or in cases where statutory limits exist for fees, or often; but, for the most part, consistently applied rate examination, and fee structure addendums, applied where necessary, allow attorneys to corral change, and put it to work for them, rather than being worked over by it. 

Liner Notes

The return of ‘Liner Notes’ has been delightful, hasn’t it?  It’s exhilarating, in that I have no idea what I’m going to write about from week to week any longer.  . . . Good Lord, I need a hobby.  What the hell is wrong with me?

In any event, until I find a good one, I’m scouring the interwebs for musical gems to impart; and, I believe I’ve unearthed a good one today:

Regular readers of the LOMAP Blog will note well my affinity for Jay Farrar, lead singer of Son Volt, formerly of Uncle Tupelo, and on his own.  So, it’s likely no surprise that he’ll show up here–but, in stranger places, and with Ben Gibbard, lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie and of the Postal Service, among other things.  I think Gibbard’s got one of the most unique voices in popular music; and, Farrar is a lyricist in the class of Bob Dylan.  (Yes, I did just write that, that’s correct–though, their styles are different, and Farrar is a little more out of time.)  It turns out that, in 2009, Farrar and Gibbard teamed up to record a soundtrack to the documentary (Weird, right? Documentaries have soundtracks? Apparently.), ‘One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur’, which is about just what you think it is.  (I guess they’re both big Jack Kerouac fans.)  What’s the big (sur) deal?  Well, the album is dope, that’s what.

Don
’t believe me?  You can listen to the whole thing on Grooveshark (just search for the album title); my personal notation reads: the first half of the album is very strong, and the second half wanes some; but, I do like the whole thing.  Oh, and since it’s 2012 now, most of the tracks are also available on YouTube–that is, if you generally prefer fan videos, grainy cuts and/or live bootlegs.  California Zephyr’ is the lead track, and the real standout here–in fact, it is literally outstanding.  Low Life Kingdom’ is your standard Farrar tune that sounds like slow rollin’ waves of amber grain.  These Roads Don’t Move’ is actually an uptempo skipper, calling into question whether the roads  do, in fact, move.  Or not.  Final Horrors’ sounds like Jay exorcising his guitar.  Williamine’ is probably the closest thing to a Son Volt/Death Cabmash-up that I could find on the album . . . and, I was looking.  Make it Willia-yours, won’t you?

Should you listen to this a lot, or download it, and then listen to it a lot?  That’s a Big Sur(e).