I would agree with your comment to a certain extent, as there is a systemic problem where people are denied access to justice simply because they cannot afford an attorney. Nonetheless, an attorney, or any professional for that matter, shouldn't be expected to offer their services at a rate which causes the attorney to shut his/her door, layoff staff, fee his/herself or otherwise be unable to meet expenses. Also, the rates you quoted are not unheard of and are in line with what the market will pay generally for family law legal services. Finally, I would argue that attorney fees are actually depressed in California, especially in larger markets like San Diego, with attorneys offering steep discounts in what they would normally charge if the economy were in better shape.
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1) You are probably speaking with lawyers with firms. You will be able to find sole practitioners and lawyers in outlying cities who charge less, because their overhead is lower. It is extremely expensive to run a law firm, especially if you have to compete with other firms for the best lawyers, both associates and paralegals.
2) If people weren't willing to pay these rates, lawyers couldn't charge them.
3) What lawyers do is extremely stressful, high risk, and demanding. Lawyers have the highest rates of alcoholism, depression, and suicide of any profession, and they have a lower life expectancy overall.
4) They may charge $300 per hour, plus, for their time, but most have an effective rate (actual revenue per hour) that is far less. Fees get reduced by write offs, noncollectable accounts, and reductions for other reasons.
5) If people needed clinical psychologists to the same degree they need lawyers, clinical psychologists would be in greater demand, and you can bet they would charge more for their services.
6) For better of for worse, we are a capitalistic society where professionals, like other business people charge as much as the market will bear. Why wouldn't they? If they don't they are cheating their families.
7) There are good quality, low cost and/or free legal services for those who can't pay the going rates.
Lawyer fees are market driven just like anything else. McDonald's charges the prices it does because it knows what it needs to cover costs and make a marginal profit. A penny more and they know that x amount of people won't buy a particular product. Attorney fees work the same way. The problem is the perception. People see lawyers on TV and here about the extravagent lifestyles and they think that is how lawyers live, when in fact, the vast majority of lawyers are either struggling to get by or just making a half way decent salary. People, in general, simply don't understand the high cost of doing business as a lawyer or law firm. Everything is expensive, and those costs have to trickle down.
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1. The overhead is huge. We have legal secretaries, assistants, etc. The rate charged allows lawyers to stay in business. 2. If you lower the rate, then you have to close shop. Can't increase the hours. I am already working at least 60 hours a week. 3. Psychiatrists testifying in court charge us $ 3,500 to $ 7,500.00 per half day (3 hours in court at most). Orthopedics testifying in court charge as much as $ 7,500 per half day and even more. Clinical psychologists charge us at least $2500 for a half day in court. A lawyer (at $ 400.00 an hour) will charge $ 1,200.00 for a 1/2 day in court or less. 4. Solo practitioners, like myself, spend part of day in administrative functions for which there is no billing. We bill only for actual time spent in a client's case. 5. Client's cases are fact specific and require individual attention to them. 6. Most lawyers work with clients and allow payment plans. 7. At the end of the day, most lawyers I know (including myself) don't take home that much. 8. Most lawyers I know do pro bono work as well for which we charge no fees or limited means work for which we charge limited fees. But we can't do this that often and stay in business.
At the end of the day, after at least 60 hours a week, I can't even pay my bills.