Alternative Fee Agreements

As some readers of Slaw may know, about 10 months ago, I transitioned from private practice at Norton Rose Canada to an in-house position at a large retailer. I’ve loved the transition – particularly the more “business”-related aspects of my job. In my new role, I am responsible for negotiating with our outside counsel for the area of law in which I work. Because of the nature of the business I work for, I’ve had the opportunity to work with firms across the country and to negotiate new agreements with a number of them. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’ve been able to obtain interesting combinations of staged flat-fees (for standard and common litigation), blended rates and monthly advice retainers. I’ve been pushing hard on these “alternative fee agreements” (AFAs) – with the goal of not only obtaining good rates but also, and perhaps more importantly, achieving some financial certainty and predictability for our budget. I’ve learned in my short time that budgets and predictability are incredibly important to in-house counsel.

I’d be interested to hear comments from lawyers in both private practice and in-house on their experiences with AFAs.


  1. Cost and certainty is only one part of the equation. Firms should also be giving you value such that you and your team are freed up to give value to your business people.

    It would be interesting for you to sit down with your business people to determine where they see you adding value to the company – then sit down with your in-house legal team to map out what you want from outside firms that will align with what your business people want and that also align with the values and goals of the company. You can add bonuses or penalties for behaviour that does not align with these matters.

    Good luck!