While some states require attorneys to give their clients a written retainer agreement, not all states require such agreements. It is important to always request a written retainer agreement that specifically addresses the issues concerning fees.
Tell your attorney any specifics you require to be contained in the retainer agreement. Ask the attorney to separate actual disbursement fees from attorney fees. Disbursement fees are charges that you pay separate from actual attorney’s fee. For example, if you are filing for a divorce, the Courts charge fees for various items that are necessary to obtain a divorce, such as an Index Number. There are also disbursement charges for Service of Process. Some attorneys also charge for copies and postage.
I provide my clients with a very detailed bill. I record the date of any service I perform, the actual time spent on the particular service, the hourly rate, and any disbursements. For example, if I write a letter to the opposing attorney, the charge would look like this:
2-16-2012 Correspondence to Attorney .2 (Which would be 12 minutes) @ attorney rate.
2-16-2012 4 copies @ .10
2-16-2012 2 postage @ .45
I consider a relationship with my clients to be one of trust. Therefore, I do not have any “hidden fees”. My clients know exactly for what they are being charged.
Tell your attorney to specify any minimum amounts that are charged for telephone calls, letters, and court appearances.
Most lawyers charge a minimum for telephone conferences. Minimum fees for telephone calls usually range from five minutes to one half hour. Any amount up to fifteen (15) minutes is reasonable.
A minimum fee for a telephone call works like this: A lawyer charges you for each telephone call you make to him or her and for each telephone call the lawyer makes to you. They may or may not charge you a minimum fee if you telephone the office and the attorney is not available to speak with you. An attorney may or may not charge you a minimum fee if they return your telephone call and you are not available to speak.
However, if you and your attorney do speak on the telephone, you will be charged a minimum fee even if you speak for less time than is covered by the minimum amount. For example, if your attorney charges a minimum fee of 15 minutes for a telephone conference and you only speak with him or her for ten minutes - the minimum fee applies.
If you speak with your attorney on the telephone for more than the minimum fee, you will be billed for the amount of time you spend speaking to the attorney.
It is also important that you insist your attorney agree to send you a detailed bill at specific intervals i.e., every 60 days. The bill should consist of the date, the exact service performed, (including telephone calls), the amount of time spent on the service, and the specific amount billed for that particular service.
An attorney may also charge a minimum for writing letters. Require that your attorney send you copies of each and every correspondence the attorney writes on your behalf. Keep your copies to match up against the bill. Require your attorney to send you copies of any letters he or she receives concerning your case. When your attorney sends you copies, they usually write you a cover letter. The cover letter should only be billed at the minimum rate.
Lastly, some lawyers use paralegal or other staff. You should require your lawyer to specify in the Retainer Agreement, the hourly fee for the paralegal. Again, require your lawyer to specify on your bill who preformed the service.
Here is an example of how a detailed bill should look:
2/7/2012 Correspondence to Court .4 @ $200.00 Attorney $80.00
2/8/2012 Draft Motion to Dismiss 1.0 @ $50.00 Paralegal $100.00
Some states require that clients are given a Bill of Rights. If your state or specific jurisdiction does not require a Bill of Rights, you might consider presenting one to your attorney and request him or her to sign the document.
Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney any questions you have about their experience, fees or billing procedures. Ask for a written retainer agreement. Your attorney should be happy to
produce such an agreement which protects both you and the attorney.
Written by Becky Caruso, Esq.
I am a local, Binghamton Lawyer. My Law Office concentrates in Matrimonial & Divorce Law, Family Law Criminal Defense and the General Practice of Law.
Additionally, I provide Wills, Landlord/Tenant Leases, Prenuptial Agreements, and Deed Transfers
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