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Unbundled, Flat Fee or Full Service, Which is Better?

by | Jan 13, 2019 | Flat Fee

Family Law attorneys charge for their services under three, very different billing models: Unbundled, Flat Fee and Full Service. Each offers advantages. Each offers disadvantages. So, which one is better for you?

Full Service

To understand unbundled and flat fee, first we need to consider the traditional model, Full Service. Otherwise, by contrast, the other two won’t make any sense.
In full service billing, the attorney charges by the hour for everything that needs to be done on your case. The attorney handles the case from the moment you retain until your case is over, so long as you remain current on your bill. There is no way to know how much your case will actually cost because family law litigation is a competitive event. Just like in competitive sports, the other side is fighting hard to win and fighting hard to make you lose. To use a recent football analogy, no one knew how hard Alabama was going to have to fight until Clemson came out to play. At the end of your divorce, you don’t want to be like Alabama. You want to fight hard enough to win.

In full service, the attorney should set a strategy from the outset. The attorney should figure out how to get you where you want to go and therefore, how to get the better of the opposition each step of the way.

Of course, the disadvantage is that you don’t know how much your case might cost. It could cost $2,000.00; it could cost $20,000.00 and maybe more. It will cost as much as is necessary to combat the other side. If the other side doesn’t fight much, it will cost less. 


Cases can be broken down into component parts. For example, there are the initial pleadings. There is the first hearing. There is discovery. There is Motion practice. There is mediation. And there is trial. Rather than hire an attorney for full service, soup to nuts, start to finish, you can hire an attorney to just handle the component parts, one piece at a time.

The advantage of unbundled is that your financial risk for attorney fees is minimized. The attorney still bills by the hour but rather than hiring an attorney to do everything in 10 plus aspects of litigation, you are hiring them to do only one (perhaps even just one at a time). The overall risk is reduced at least ten fold. It would be like hiring a football team for the first quarter, only.

The disadvantage is that no attorney is driving the train from start to finish. No attorney is playing quarterback. You have no cohesive strategy and execution of that strategy, rather, you are bouncing from event to event.

Flat Fee

Flat fee sounds too good to be true. An attorney promises to handle your case like a full service case, for a fixed price. “I will handle your case from beginning to end for $x.” One fee to handle everything. Who wouldn’t like that? Unfortunately, what sounds too good to be true often is.

Attorneys are in business. No matter how passionate about their field of practice, they have bills to pay and mouths to feed and a retirement to fund. This means that they cannot lose money any more than anyone else can. You probably wouldn’t accept employment from someone who promised to pay you a fixed, one time only sum and couldn’t tell you how many hours you would have to work or how many months if not years your work might require. So, why would an attorney ever structure such an arrangement?

Not long ago, I had this very conversation with the attorney who is the best known in metro Atlanta for offering flat fee services. I expressed to him that the problem with flat fees is that either the attorney is going to get burned or the client is. As we all know, the attorney, the one who structures the deal, is probably not going to get burned, not and stay in business. Grinning from ear to ear, the flat fee attorney agreed with me.

So how does a flat fee attorney make money? By restricting his services, trimming down what is truly full service. Maybe he doesn’t prepare for hearings. That saves him money. Maybe he doesn’t engage in settlement discussions because they take time and are messy. That saves him money. Maybe he doesn’t conduct sufficient discovery. That saves him money. Maybe he tries cases by showing up and seeing what happens. He can save a lot of money that way.

In the end in flat fee, the attorney wins and the client loses.

So, from a logical business perspective, only full service and unbundled billing methods are sound, reliable, trustworthy business and therefore sound practice models.

of the two, full service is most certainly the best model. You have the complete protection provided by the attorney. Your attorney will do everything for you at every step of the way. From the beginning, your attorney will create and employ a strategy that is designed to successfully get you to the end of your case.

Still, unbundled makes sense if you are quite comfortable handling some aspects of your case, if you do not believe that strategy is necessary or advisable, or if affording attorney fees are a huge issue. In those situations, unbundled makes a lot of sense.

At the firm, we offer both full service and unbundled. Flat fee? Nope. We want to help our clients, not maximize our profits off of them.

Give us a call and let us help you.

Michael Manely