Why We Get Paid Only If and When You Do
“How do you get paid?”
You may (or may not) be surprised to learn that this is one of the first questions we get asked at Trust Law Partners. And you can understand why. Clients experiencing the huge emotional and financial impact of being cut out of a will or trust see themselves rolling a big rock uphill in their effort to get back what they believe is rightfully theirs. They have an inkling of the time and legal expense involved. They realize that, in the area of estate litigation, most attorneys charge by the hour, and that legal fees can soar. They want to know—and have a right to know—if the payoff will be worth the tough journey ahead.
That’s why they’re pleasantly surprised to learn that Trust Law Partners works only on contingency. That means we don’t get paid unless and until our clients do. Plus, we charge no upfront fees.
That’s an attractive proposition for most prospective clients. But, before you shower us with praise let me explain the origins of that decision, starting with a little confession:
For years, instead of fighting for beneficiaries in will or trust contests, as I do now, I defended trustees being sued by beneficiaries. And I came to a startling realization. Since my clients had lots of money from the trust to pay our firm, and the other side usually has a lot less money, we could “beat them into submission” because we had the resources to outlast them.
Of course, on the flip side, trustees can also be wronged, and they have rights, too. I was well respected, good at what I did, and believed in what I was doing. Still, over time I became increasingly uneasy with the “blunt force” economics of the situation.
Here’s the reality. Attorneys are expensive and want to get paid whether you win or lose. Most are risk averse. Even so, they’re happy to take your money and give your case a go if they know they’re being compensated regardless of the outcome. They’ll even take long-shot cases hoping to get lucky but secure in the knowledge that they’ll get their money—either through upfront fees or regular by-the-hour billings. Whatever the circumstance, in effect they put all the risk on the client with no accountability on their part.
Based on my previous experiences, my development as an attorney, and my genuine compassion for aggrieved families, when I started Trust Law Partners I wanted to make sure we did not work this way. Accordingly, one of our abiding principles is that we’re engaged in lawsuits with the same interest and risk level as our clients. Basically, that means if you don’t win we don’t get paid.
Before you start throwing roses at our feet for being noble, I should mention that we routinely turn down cases we do not think are winners. Furthermore, we have a well-defined process for analytically evaluating cases—one that carefully assesses risk versus reward so that we and the client can decide whether it’s worth going forward. Here’s how it works: After interviewing prospective clients and getting the key facts of their situation we review any documents they have to support their position. We may even request additional documents, such as deeds and witness statements, before giving our initial opinion.
If, after our evaluation, we determine we cannot win the case we will not take it on. The reason is simple—and only slightly selfish: we do not want to work for free; nor do we want clients to go through a drawn-out and probably stressful lawsuit if it isn’t worth the effort.
If their case is “good” and clients choose to retain us, we move quickly. We cover all ongoing costs—such as mediation, filing and messenger fees—as the case progresses. Then we get reimbursed for them at the end. Typically, we charge 35% of the total gross recovery if the case settles prior to filing a lawsuit. If the case does go to trial we charge 40% of the total gross recovery because of the added time and effort involved.
If you think about it, Trust Law Partners’ compensation structure is an equitable arrangement for us and for you.