smart spending

7 ways to save on legal advice

Some of Roe's clients also draft their own provisional patent application. He'll simply review the application, provide feedback and charge for the review time. Filing for bankruptcy and opening probate are other legal matters for which you could draft your own documents and then pay an attorney to review them to be sure you haven't made costly mistakes.

3. Seek a set fee

"Flat rates are becoming more popular in areas like bankruptcy and estate planning," says Hyder. "It's a pretty good deal for everyone. Clients know how much they're going to be out, and attorneys ask for the fee upfront, so they know they'll get paid and how much."

4. Request a discount for repeat business.

If you regularly have legal questions, ask your attorney to follow Leonard Bellavia's lead. The senior partner at Bellavia Gentile & Associates in Mineola, N.Y., offers small-business owners unlimited access to his firm's attorneys for a monthly fee of $250. "Any company employee gets unlimited access to our attorneys to discuss anything to do with operating the business," he says. "For $250 a month, the business essentially gets an in-house attorney."

Bellavia's fee includes basic contract reviews, but once attorneys have to leave the office or get involved in litigation, he charges by the hour. "If clients have a legal matter not covered by traditional phone advice," he says, "we charge $175 per hour, which is less than half our hourly rate."

5. Hire a document preparer

Some states, such as Arizona and California, permit legal document preparers to draft routine legal documents without an attorney's supervision. "I set up limited liability companies, corporations and partnerships and handle noncompete and confidentiality agreements if they're simple," says Christine Springer, a certified legal document preparer who operates Desert Edge Legal Services LLC in Phoenix. "But I can't give legal advice or represent someone in court." Depending on the document, you could cut your costs by one-third to one-half by hiring a document preparer.

6. Look for group discounts

You may not realize that a group you belong to has negotiated a reduced fee with local attorneys. "Organizations like AARP and some unions have attorney referral services," says Hyder. "For example, I pay AARP an annual fee to be on its referral list. In return, I agree to offer a 45-minute free consultation and to charge AARP members a slight discount."

7. Turn to software

Even Dadakis says you can sometimes use legal document preparation software. In his area of expertise, estate planning, Dadakis says a married couple without children shouldn't have problems using software to prepare a will. An elderly couple with a moderate estate and a clear idea of how to divide it among their heirs is probably also safe with software.

However, Dadakis hesitates when it comes to other estate documents. "For example, a power of attorney disturbs me a little because it's such a dangerous document," he says. "Without knowing what you're doing, you give people power over your money, and that's where we see fraudulent activity. I'd prefer people consult a lawyer."

In this economy, many competent attorneys are working with clients to lower their costs, but you should never be penny-wise and pound-foolish. "I've had to rethink the whole billable-hour practice in this recession," says Hyder. "The problem is that if clients sacrifice competent and experienced attorneys for cheaper costs, they may pay for it down the road with sloppy mistakes."

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