Why No Look Fees Are No Good For Bankruptcy Lawyers

No look fees for bankruptcy cases are comfortable and easy for the practitioner.

You can quote a fee for a Chapter 13 confident that most other attorneys in town are quoting the same fee.  No fear of price competition.

The client likes it. It appears to offer certainty in an uncertain world to someone worried about how to pay for a debt solution.

You can skip preparing fee applications and standing up in court to defend what you’ve charged.

Comfortable, cozy, and bad for business

No look fees sell bankruptcy lawyers short and set up economic reasons for us to sell our clients out to preserve our bottom line.

The nasty fact is that all Chapter 13’s are not the same, no more than all people are the same.  If the bench has established a no look fee that is the minimum a case should take, in the view of a judge who hasn’t practice in oh-so-many-years, then a large percentage of your cases take more effort than the minimum.  You are shortchanged at every turn.

If the no look fee purports to be an average, then you have to hope you are doing enough cases for the law of averages to really work in your practice.  One of my husband’s engineer friends told me, as I was complaining about a series of misfortunes, that I couldn’t count on the law of averages to bring me better results, as the law of averages doesn’t work on numbers this small, he said.  For most of us, our case load is too small for the ups and downs to average out in any meaningful time.

A no look fee feeds into the view that bankruptcy representation is a commodity, fungible, and subject to price competition.  One doesn’t have to look beyond the disasters the inexperienced are wreaking in bankruptcy courtrooms to know that isn’t so.  Yet the public can be excused from thinking that one lawyer’s as good as the next if the judge can set a standard price.

Most problematic, though, is that the no look fee heightens the inherent tension between lawyer and client over money.  When the recompense is fixed, there’s  a real temptation to concede a point, slide over an issue, not challenge the opposition because a dispute will shrink your bottom line.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Dr. Case.

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  • Frank Pipitone

    Like you mention, I cannot understand why fees for Chapter 13 cases seem to be a set standard.  At least they are in my jurisdiction.  

    On the other hand, Chapter 7 fees are all over the place.

    I don’t understand this.  Attorneys assess their value as honestly as they can when retained for Chapter 7, but blindly quote a “standard” fee when retained for Chapter 13.  It just makes no sense.  Most Chapter 13 cases are more live, organic and unpredictable than Chapter 7 cases so I’m not sure why attorneys go with the “no-look.”