Many solo and small firm lawyers share a common problem: too many clients with too little money to pay legal fees. But before you turn those impecunious clients away, you may want to explore other means to help them pay the bills.
Fee Shifting Statutes
Fee-shifting statutes allow a prevailing party to recover legal fees from the opposing side. You can find a long list of federal fee-shifting statutes in this 2008 Congressional Research Service Report but many states have fee-shifting statutes also, including quirky ones such as a California statute that allows intervenors to seek recovery of fees for participating in formal proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission.
Fee-shifting statutes come with risk of course – you may not win the case, or the court may cut your fees. Some lawyers who rely on fee-shifting statutes work on pure contingency, while others charge a reduced hourly or flat fee with the expectation of recovering the rest if they win the case. Either way, fee-shifting statutes make case costs more manageable for clients.
Some clients may have insurance coverage to fund the cost of an attorneys under D& O or business liability policies – and may give the policy holder the right to choose own attorney. In any event, it’s good practice to review prospective clients’ liability policies – because it’s possible they could sue you for failing to disclose that their insurance policy would have covered their legal fees.
If potential clients are bringing or defending a suit that would benefit their family members, community or the public at large, crowdfunding — which I covered here is another option.
Third Party Financing
Third-party financing – increasingly common for medical professionals- is also an option for clients who can’t pay by credit card and can’t raise enough money up front to pay your retainer fees. In a third-party financing arrangement, clients take out a loan from the financing company for the expected amount of the case, which is then paid directly to the attorney. The client then repays the financing company on a monthly basis. The benefit of third-party financing is that the lawyer is paid upfront, and the client bears the cost of the interest on the loan.
Third-party financing is very different from traditional litigation funding — typically used in high-value cases — where a company fronts the attorney the funds necessary for the lawsuit and collects a percentage of the proceeds recovered. By contrast, third-party financing involves a loan for a sum certain and does not give the lender a stake in the litigation. Two examples of third-party financing companies are Legal Fee Lending and I Qualify Lending [note – no endorsement of either company; these are two examples of many].
Many small business clients may not be familiar with federal or state small business grant programs that can provide an influx of cash into their companies. Although the grants themselves may not fund for legal fees, the influx of revenue can free up other cash that the company can use to pay your fees.
Do you have any special tips on helping clients find money to pay your bills. Please share your ideas in the comments section.