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Robert S. Duxstad
Daniel P. Bestul
Lance A. McNaughton

What You Should Know About Attorney Fees

Posted: 2.01.2013  |  Author: 

To many people who need legal help, attorney fees are a mystery. The lack of information may mean he or she puts off calling an attorney; this can cause unneeded additional expense, or even losing out entirely on the chance to solve the problem and get peace of mind. This post gives a brief overview of how we charge for our services, and gives some guidance for anyone looking for help with a legal issue.

We will tell you upfront

We are committed to making sure our fees are reasonable. At the onset of our representation, the attorney will communicate the scope of the representation and the basis, or rate, of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible. This will be communicated to the client in writing if the total cost will exceed $1,000, and either orally or in writing if the total cost of the representation will be $1,000 or less.

Our written fee agreements contain an estimate of what we expect our fees will be for handling the legal matter. This estimate may be revised as better information is made available. Because the amount of fees may vary depending on your particular circumstances, it is our practice to only have the attorney(s) who have personally discussed the matter with you provide the estimate of fees. If, after being told what our fees may be in a case, a person decides not to retain our firm, there will be no charge for the consultation up to that point in time.

Fees will be different for different types of cases

Attorney fees are typically based on an hourly rate, a flat fee, or a contingent fee. Charging fees on an hourly basis is the most common method we use. Hourly fees range from $150 to $250 per hour depending on the attorney providing the service and the type of matter. Accurate time records are maintained by the firm, in one-tenth of an hour increments with a minimum billed increment of two-tenths of an hour.

When we use an hourly rate, our fee will be based principally on the time involved in representation, although we may take into consideration the difficulty of the issues involved and the results which we are able to achieve.

A word about hourly rates: don’t comparison shop based solely on a quoted hourly rate. A more experienced attorney, or one who uses support staff effectively, may be far more efficient than a newer attorney, or one who does not have any support staff. Put another way – an attorney who charges $250 an hour, but only takes an hour to accomplish a task, is a better bargain than a $150 an hour attorney who takes two hours to get the same job done.

A contingent fee is the most common arrangement in cases involving personal injury. In a contingent fee arrangement, no fee is owed unless a recovery is made on your behalf. The typical contingent fee provides that the fees will be one-third of the gross recovery, though the percentage may vary depending on the nature of the case, whether the matter goes to trial or is appealed. In addition to the contingent fee, the client is responsible for payment of out-of-pocket expenses, advanced by the firm. All contingent fees must be in writing, and the client must approve of all settlements.

Lawyers ore prohibited from using contingent fees in certain types of cases. For example, contingent fees are not allowed in most family law cases.

Our firm used to handle collection matters on a contingent fee basis, but has found that handling collection matters on an hourly basis was more beneficial to the client in most cases. Frequently, a client would be reluctant to turn a collection matter over to an attorney, because they didn’t want to lose a percentage of what was owed to them. However, by delaying a matter for collection, a debtor’s ability to pay declines, and the creditor’s ability to collect the debt often becomes more difficult. When the collection matter gets to the attorney soon after an account becomes delinquent, there is a greater likelihood of success at a lower cost.

Flat fees are occasionally charged for certain routine matters, such as the preparation of warranty deeds, or the filing of certain documents. If you are interested in having legal matters handled on a flat fee basis, discuss the arrangement with the attorney before the work begins..

In most cases, we will charge for disbursements, such as court filing fees, service fees, deposition costs, long distance phone calls, mileage, photocopies, and other expenses associated with the case. These items are spelled out in our written fee agreement.

We encourage our clients to help keep costs down

A client can reduce costs in a number of ways. Before calling your attorney have your questions written down. Try to combine your questions into a single phone call or email, rather than engaging in frequent calls or emails. Respond to requests for information promptly so the attorney or his staff member does not have to make additional requests. Come to meetings well-prepared. Provide accurate information to your attorney so a proper evaluation can be made of your legal matter and the attorney can better present your position, either to opposing counsel, or the court.

You may be asked to make a fee deposit

In many matters you may be asked to make a deposit to our trust account in advance to cover fees and expenses incurred by our office for your representation. Your payment will be deposited into our fee deposit trust account and held until we bill you for our services.

If the fees and cost exceed your deposit, you will owe the balance. If at the close of the case there is a balance remaining from the deposit, the balance will be refunded to you.

Don’t expect someone else to pay your fees

Many clients will ask if their attorney fees will be paid by the other party. Under the American judicial system, in most instances each party pays their own attorney fees. This rule may change under certain circumstances, such as when a contract provides otherwise, or there is a specific statute that provides for the recovery of attorney fees. You should discuss whether recovery of your attorney fees from another party is possible, but don’t be surprised if that will not be the case.

It’s your case, and your right to know

Most people feel a little uncomfortable talking about money. Don’t be.

You have a right to know what your fees may be. The best attorney-client relationships are built on a foundation of trust. That includes trust that you will be charged a reasonable fee based on a mutual agreement between the parties that is clear from the beginning.

By: Attorney Robert S. Duxstad


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