Legal fees can add up quickly, and sometimes it can be unclear as to what you are actually being billed for.  How can you make sense out of the confusion?

How Can the Legal Fees Be More Transparent?

First, it is very important to completely discuss legal fees in your first meeting with your lawyer.  You have both a right and a responsibility to know how much you will be charged.  It is also important to get the lawyer’s billing structure in writing.  You should read this and fully understand it before agreeing to it.  

If you still do not understand the bill, you should contact your lawyer to discuss your concerns.  Most lawyers keep thorough records of the time spent on and expenses connected to each case, and can completely explain any charges that you do not understand.

Finally, you can at any time request an itemized accounting from your lawyer detailing every expense billed to you. Going over this accounting with your lawyer can also allow your lawyer to catch any billing errors.  It also can help show your lawyer where they were not adequately clear in explaining their billing structure to you in your initial meeting.

How Can Legal Fees Be Paid?

Legal fees can be paid in a variety of ways. These methods of payment include:

  • Hourly – Fees come straight out of the client’s pocket. Clients should expect a monthly invoice to ensure that the total cost of the case is affordable. Most often used in family and business law.
  • Retainer – Hourly fees paid in advance. The money is placed in a trust account and the lawyer(s) withdraw from the account as the lawyers need to. Monthly invoices should be given. Major drawback is that if the money runs out before the case is over, the client must either pay more or the lawyer(s) will stop working on the case.
  • Contingency – Fees come out of the settlement or award given at the end of the case. Clients pay nothing if the lawyer is unable to settle or win in court. Lawyers are often selective in which cases they take up. Most often used in personal injury and employment law.
  • Flat – Fee is paid once and up front. However, be certain that the lawyer only has to accomplish one action and one action only so that no hidden fees are incurred. These are used for the simplest of services, such as drafting a contract or will. Uncontested divorces can also be done at a flat fee.
  • Pro Bono – No fee required. A lawyer often works pro bono in order to fulfill community service requirements or because the objective is to change the law in some way. Criminal defenders work pro bono for clients, but are paid by the government.

What Exactly Is My Lawyer Charging Me For?

The most expensive thing about legal fees is time spent on research. This includes gathering facts about the case as well as researching precedents, or similar cases. This includes not only the lawyer’s research, but also the research of his paralegals.

Next, court fees and document preparation can take up a good amount of money. Although each filing fee by itself is not expensive, the combined fees can make the bill much larger.
Finally, more experienced lawyers will charge more. In exchange though, the experienced lawyers have a better mastery of the field they work in and can find legal solutions more quickly.