Client Retention — 08 October 2019
Ethical Billing When Charging To Modify An Agreement

Modifications most often occur in family law. This is the process by which one parent or the other tries to change the previously established terms of an arrangement. Such terms include child support, child custody, alimony, etc. These are the most common terms that a client will attempt to alter. When both parents agree on the new terms, the process to modify the agreement is easy. 

When they don’t agree — well, that’s when it gets complicated, and that can affect overall pricing.

The problem is this: the previously agreed upon arrangement is legally binding. You most likely sealed the deal on paper, maybe even in front of a judge. That means you cannot just walk away from the guidelines established without breaking the law — which is a very dangerous thing to do. Always seek the help of a modifications lawyer whenever you want to amend the agreement in any way. 

Billing is somewhat of a grey area when it comes to modifications. Although parents are sometimes in agreement, they’re usually at odds with one another. Trying to find a reasonable outcome can take a lot of time and effort, and unfortunately that’s just how lawyers usually bill their clients: by the hour.

Ethical billing has always stumped lawyers, and certainly it has always stumped their clients. But law school is expensive, and so are the services that are rarely used more than once or twice a lifetime, if at all. At the end of the day a lawyer has the ability to set prices according to their own specifications.

How can we make those specifications ethical?

There are a few ways: considering that a modifications lawyer probably already have a working relationship with a client who is seeking a modification to a preexisting agreement, the modifications lawyer might feel comfortable charging less for services rendered. Then again, maybe not. Part of the equation is the client’s status. Is the client easy to work with? 

Another important factor in determining ethical billing is a client’s financial status. If a modifications lawyer is only accepting or filing paperwork for a client, or providing simple legal advice — i.e. does the client need a lawyer at all? — then he or she might feel that little or no payment is required, especially if the client is having trouble making ends meet. Lawyers are trying to make a living themselves, but they’re not trying to destroy their clients. They want to see you again, after all.

The paperwork required to change a previously made agreement will likely cost a court-mandated fee, depending on the state where it is being changed. These are usually minor fees, but they can grow in size depending on the kind of order that a client wants changed. Always ask your modifications lawyer for advice before filling out a document — imagine the aggravation of filing the wrong paperwork!

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Dolores Obrien

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