Last Will And Testament Document

In 1971 the local bar association in Fairfax County, Virginia published a fee schedule that contained recommended prices for common legal services. The recommended price was considered a minimum for that service – lawyers could charge more, but not less, than the price on the schedule. The Virginia State Bar fully endorsed the practice of minimum price setting and issued 2 ethical opinions that lawyers could be guilty of misconduct if they ignored fee schedules.

That did not sit well with the United States Supreme Court. In 1975 the Court issued an opinion in Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar that a minimum fee schedule for lawyers violates the federal anti-trust law.  No price-fixing was allowed in the practice of law.

Comparing Prices Between Different Law Firms

The lawyers took that lesson to heart and that is why you, the client, cannot find an industry-wide attorney fee schedule for common documents such as wills and powers of attorney. The legacy of the Goldfarb case makes it almost impossible for clients to compare prices between law firms.

Goldfarb also makes it difficult for lawyers to compare their own prices with other law firms. Instead, the lawyer is required to set the fee based on the nebulous Texas ethics rules, which require that the fee must be “reasonable.” The lawyer is supposed to make this determination based upon such factors as   the lawyer’s experience and reputation, the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, the customary fees charged in that locality, the time and labor involved, the dollar amount involved in representation, time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances, and the nature of the professional relationship with the client.  

Estate Planning Attorney Fees

Most attorneys who regularly practice estate planning have a default schedule of fees that they adjust based on the factors from the ethics code. For example, the lawyer will probably charge a premium if a client calls them from the hospital the day before a scheduled surgery and requests new documents be immediately drafted and signed. If, on the other hand, a client doesn’t need rush documents and has a simple estate, then the lawyer may charge a reduced fee.

Lawyers will also adjust fees to meet the actual services involved. Not all lawyers provide the same services under the umbrella of “estate planning.” Some lawyers spend 20 minutes with their client, get basic information and then hand off the drafting work to a legal assistant. Other lawyers may perform custom estate planning that includes a lengthy client meeting, review of existing documents, analysis of family and friend relationships, review of financial affairs, personally drafting the documents, and follow-up with agents. You get more out of, and will pay more for, the custom estate planning.

Businessman and businesswoman on the scale

Nor do all lawyers charge the same fee structure. Some lawyers routinely charge a set fee for estate planning, while other lawyers charge on an hourly basis. Many lawyers do not decide the fee structure until after they have had a chance to meet with the client and find out what needs to be done. The time and expertise involved for an estate plan that includes just a will and some ancillary documents is far different than that required for an estate plan that includes several tailored trusts, a family limited partnership and a few limited liability companies.

If you can’t compare prices in advance, what should you do? Decide by the lawyer’s experience, professionalism, and reputation. Good lawyers will never be the cheapest, but they will be the least expensive in the long run. 

Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Estate Planning Needs

If you’re ready to start creating an estate plan or have questions about your estate planning options, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced  lawyers to explore your options.

Attorney Virginia Hammerle, of Hammerle Finley Law Firm, is in her fifth decade of law practice. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law and an Accredited Estate Planner. Reach her at This column does not constitute legal advice.