Understanding the Matrimonial & Family Law Attorney Hourly Rate
In a sense the attorney’s hourly rate is a statement by that attorney of his or her belief as to what the value of an hour of his or her legal services is worth. This amount is purely subjective and is not regulated or reviewed by the State Bar or any regulatory agency of the State of New York or the Federal Government. Attorneys can base their hourly rates on what they perceive is fair and reasonable, their professional accomplishments, or what the market (for lawyers) will allow. Many attorneys will base their rates on peer ratings, exclusive organizational affiliations, publications and lectures given, or a combination of these and other factors.
The point is that the legal services provider is creating a perception of a certain value for their time and expects that the legal services consumer will not question that value.
But why shouldn’t that hourly rate be questioned?
The lawyer’s reputation for past results cannot provide any firm promise of a similar outcome in any new client matter. That is why so many personal injury attorney advertisements that show high settlements and verdicts have disclaimers stating something like “THE CASE RESULTS DESCRIBED HERE DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR RESULT IN ANY FUTURE CASE WE UNDERTAKE.”
The same is true in any matrimonial or family law matter. Matrimonial and family law cases have idiosyncratic differences that make them unique.
While there may be prior legal precedent, in many cases outcomes cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. There are usually too many variables involved for an outcome to be accurately predicted.
Thus, if a legal services consumer is presented with a high hourly rate, that rate is based upon a perception that the lawyer, through his or her personality, experience, and skills, can meet the client’s expectations regarding an anticipated favorable result. Because this perception is purely conjectural and there is no empirical basis to guarantee that favorable result, legal services consumers can and should question the hourly rate and more when interviewing prospective counsel.
I have never set my hourly rates on what other lawyers are charging or what the market will allow. Instead, my practice over the past twenty-nine years has been to focus on the needs of the client, the complexity of the case, and the results sought.
Please contact H. Michael Stern for a Free Consultation if you are interested in discussing your matrimonial or family law matter.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 516-747-2290