The most common way that lawyers charge their clients is through hourly billing. Hourly billing is used for just about every situation except for personal injury cases and routine tasks.
How is Hourly Billing Calculated?
The amount an attorney charges per hour is determined by several factors. These factors include the experience of the lawyer, the complexity of your case, and the average hourly rate in your community. Also, larger law firms tend to charge more per hour than smaller firms. Finally, some attorneys charge different rates depending on the task. For example, a higher hourly rate for court work and a lower rate for research.
It is important to find out exactly what is included in your hourly rate. If other staff, such as secretaries and paralegals, works on your case, their time may be added. Also, out-of-pocket expenses and other costs incurred by the attorney are often billed in addition to the hourly rate.
How Can I Keep the Cost of Hourly Billing Down?
Although lawyers who charge by the hour can be expensive, a few tips can be extremely helpful:
First, try to save questions and ask as many as possible in as few hours as possible. Unless it is truly an emergency (you’ve been arrested or the bank has decided to foreclose), try not to call every time a question pops into your mind. Attorneys who bill by the hour will often start a new hour every time he or she has to answer the phone. This might not sound fair to the client, but a good attorney will often be working on multiple cases, making organization a problem when multiple clients call at once.
Second, use e-mail when possible and be sure to have as many questions in one e-mail as possible. The attorney will appreciate not having to make an answer on the spot and the answers will be more thoroughly researched. Also, charging e-mails ‘by the hour’ sounds absurd to most rational humans.
Finally, it is often worthwhile to try to negotiate the hourly price with your lawyer. There may be some flexibility on the rate, which can save you a good deal of money in the long run.