Flat-fee packages can help family law litigants take control of their legal costs, says Pickering family lawyer Angela Princewill.
Princewill, principal of AP Lawyers, tells AdvocateDaily.com she and her team were determined to come up with some fresh options after hearing ordinary consumers’ concerns about traditional billing, especially as average fees escalate beyond the reach of many middle-class Canadians.
“The hourly billing model works for some people, but for many clients, it just causes uncertainty in terms of managing costs,” Princewill explains. “It’s not that they don’t want to pay. It’s that they’re anxious about how much involvement they will need from a lawyer and what it will end up costing them.”
Drawing on more than a decade of experience in family law matters, the firm has produced a suite of flat-fee services that allow consumers to build their own packages, ranging from 20-minute question-and-answer blocks for otherwise unrepresented parties, all the way to full-service representation — and everything in between.
“We tried to break down the entire process to put control back in the client’s hands,” Princewill says. “If you don’t want to retain a lawyer, but know you need help, then you can get whatever you need when you need it.
“And the important thing is you know right off the bat how much you will spend.”
She says some family law matters lend themselves better to flat-fee pricing than others. For example, she says the firm’s agreement drafting package — which includes an initial meeting by phone, Skype or in person and a signing appointment — was relatively straightforward.
Even with complex family circumstances, the amount of work it takes to construct separation or cohabitation agreements and marriage contracts falls within a relatively narrow range, she says.
Things get trickier in the notoriously unpredictable world of family law litigation, but Princewill says their tiered bundles are designed to appeal to parties at different stages of the process, and with varying appetites for legal help.
“Whatever you’re trying to do, we’ve got products that are geared to your needs,” she says. “You may end up buying more than one package as you work your way through, but there is a great deal more cost-certainty than an open-ended retainer.”
For example, clients can purchase an AP Gold Package for use when starting an application in court, responding to another person’s application, or preparing for settlement or case conferences. The package includes a thorough document review and assistance with drafting materials, as well as two meetings with a lawyer and three phone calls or email interactions.
“People come to meetings very focused and knowing what they need to do, which makes for much more effective use of time than you get in a simple consultation,” Princewill says. “We introduced the emails and phone calls because we noticed that people tended to have questions between the consultation and the drafting stages. Rather than booking multiple consultations or hiring a different lawyer, this lets clients run things quickly past someone who already knows their case.”
Clients can upgrade to the Silver Package which boosts the number of phone calls or email exchanges, or add court attendances by a lawyer if needed, she says.
Another set of packages offers various levels of preparation help for parties approaching their day in court.
“The format of a trial and the amount of documentation required can be extremely overwhelming for people,” Princewill says. “We’re proud to have come up with three different packages that are catered to different needs, so you don’t pay for anything more than you require.”
In the short time since the launch of the flat-fee packages, she says they have already proved a hit with new clients.
“People are calling up and requesting specific packages, as opposed to coming in with no idea of what to do,” Princewill says. “Based on the feedback, I’m sure more flat-fee services will be added to and tweaked over time, but we’re so excited by the way it’s being received.”