by Lawrence J. Fox and Susan R. Martyn
A. Your Lawyers' Fees Must Be Fully Explained
My sense is lawyers love to charge big bucks, but don't like talking about it much.
You are right there. But even before you become a client, you are entitled to a number of protections regarding fees. Your lawyer must discuss the available methods of billing - hourly rate, fixed fee, contingent fee - and the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Tell me more about hourly billing.
This is the most common way lawyers charge. Each lawyer and paralegal has a billing rate. They are supposed to keep accurate track of their time, usually in fractions of an hour, and describe what they do during that time. Then, at the end of the month, the lawyer will send you a bill containing the descriptions and the important mathematical result.
The number of hours times the billable rate for each individual who dedicated time to the matter, all neatly added up.
Couldn't this be a great deal for the lawyer? She works real slow and I pay for every hour.
That's where reasonableness comes in - and a lawyer's fiduciary duty. Your lawyer is required to proceed efficiently and pursue only those objectives you have agreed to, following the strategic plan you two have discussed.
How will I ever know?
You are right to ask. This system is built on trust and documentation. You are not sitting around watching your lawyer's every move, stopwatch in hand. But if you don't trust your lawyer, billing is only part of the problem, and you would be well served to keep searching until you find one you do trust.
What's this about fixed fees?
Sometimes lawyer and client can agree that the lawyer will provide all services required for a fixed fee, if the service is routine, or the lawyer and client have a large database of experience with this type of matter.