Attorneys usually charge a retainer and bill their clients per hour. The retainer is an amount asked for upfront and held in escrow in which the attorney removes funds as they are earned, after this amount is depleted they begin sending invoices for every minute they spend on the matter they have been retained to handle. This is the traditional manner in which attorneys are paid. The problem with billable hours and retainers is that they offer an incentive to make work, and the client is left wondering why they received a bill in the mail after they just gave thousands for a retainer. The flat fee is a billable system in which the attorney listens to the problem, understands the work involved and quotes a price for the completion of the entire matter. This payment may be asked for up front or paid in installments, depending on the case and there may be an additional amount paid if the case goes in a more contentious direction.
My office uses flat fees and finds that it is a great savings to myself and my clients. The clients understand what they are paying for and are not surprised by unexpected invoices and we have the incentive to resolve the clients problem without creating useless and billable litigation. A client understands the concept of making an agreed upon payment for work agreed upon, especially when they see that work being performed, they will never understand giving an attorney thousands of dollars and getting an invoice two months later demanding thousands more. Regardless of what system an attorney uses it is always advisable to seek the most knowledgeable attorney who will handle your matter ethically and diligently; however, if this person works on flat fees you will always come out ahead.