On the front page of the November 26, 2012 edition of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly appears an article about a derivative suit brought against a large law firm for racking up $1.2 million in legal fees regarding a contemplative possible sale of a company; and it did not sound as if there was a buyer in sight. The legal fees were accumulated by 34 lawyers billing at rates of up to $825.00 an hour.
I have heard leadership of state wide bar associations express concern about the growing number of people who are representing themselves pro se in litigation, or are turning to the omnipotent internet for legal advice. Perhaps the fear of $825.00 per hour legal bills are scaring people away from seeking legal advice. I decided to perform an informal investigation. Lawyers.com says that “In rural areas and small towns, lawyers tend to charge less, and fees in the range of $100 to $200 an hour for an experienced attorney are probably the norm. In major metropolitan areas, the norm is probably closer to $200 to $400 an hour.” An article in The Wall Street Journal in 2011 that said that “A few pioneers had raised their fees to more than $1,000 an hour about five years ago, at the peak of the economic boom. But after the recession hit, many of the rest of the industry's elite were hesitant, until recently, to charge more than $990 an hour.” I also found the United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey Report 2010-2011 published by an Ohio law firm that concluded that on average small firm attorneys in the northeast charge $285.00 an hour and large firms on average charge $382.00 an hour.
I then signed on to a well known web site that prepares legal documents. I tried to have a deed prepared and I learned that the base price was $249.00 plus shipping and the deed would be ready in 5 to 7 business days. Most firms around here do not charge much more than $249.00 for a deed and would have it ready the same day or the next day. To the credit of the web site, when I selected that I wanted a deed prepared for the conveyance of land to a third party for monetary consideration I was informed that they could not produce the document and that I will have to consult with an attorney. I then shifted gears and ordered a very simple will without real estate, without trusts and without specific bequeaths. The charge with shipping was $71.00 and it arrived within a week. It appears to create a valid Massachusetts self-proving will if properly executed before two disinterested witnesses and a notary, but it has raised my intellectual curiosity on how the preparation of a will by a non-attorney corporation is not the unauthorized practice of law. I am sure that some brilliant people have already solved that problem; but I also incorrectly made that assumption when I heard Boston radio stations a few years ago broadcasting advertisements for off-shore sports gambling.
PAUL F. ALPHEN, ESQUIRE
BALAS, ALPHEN & SANTOS, P.C.