Be sure to find out in advance if that first meeting will be free or not. If not, find out the cost before going. Don’t choose your lawyer just because the initial visit is free. It’s experience and quality that you’re looking for.
Usually you’ll be charged the lawyer’s regular hourly rate for the time it takes the lawyer to provide the unbundled service you’ve agreed to. And you may or may not know in advance what the final cost will be unless you negotiate some clear price before you begin.
Some lawyers, after meeting with you and working out what the unbundled service will be, will give you a fixed fee, or set a maximum amount to be charged, no matter what. It’s important that you work this out clearly, in advance, so you know what the cost of the service will be and what you’ll get for that cost before you agree to anything.
There’s a big advantage to negotiating a fixed fee for your unbundled service. It gives you certainty as to what the cost will be.
But there are 2 problems with this that you need to consider. If the service takes less time than the lawyer anticipated, you’re overpaying. And if it takes more time, then you’ve got a lawyer who is now working for free, and most lawyers get grumpy when they realize they’re no longer getting paid for the time spent on your matter – even though they set the fee themselves.
To avoid the potential of working for free in that case, most lawyers will give a higher quote to cover the unpredictable. This means you’re paying for more time than the lawyer estimates will really be needed. On the other hand, it’s possible that you’ll get a refund if it takes less time than the quote covers. That’s just the way it works.
If the lawyer is setting an hourly rate but putting a cap on the fee, a figure that will be the maximum to be charged, you don’t have to worry about overpaying, but you still need to worry about the enthusiasm of the lawyer if they reach the maximum agreed upon and now have to continue to work on your file without any more payment.
And if the lawyer doesn’t give you a fixed fee, or agree to a cap, but will be charging at their regular rate, you have no control over how much time is being used and charged for. If you run out of money before the service is completed, you’ve spent your budget and have nothing of value for it.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t check around to see if you could benefit from an unbundled service. It’s to say that you need to be careful. and that you should check out both the scope of what the lawyer will do for you, and the cost, before committing to hiring the lawyer.