This profession is composed of equal parts of academics and business, and often, the balance between quality of lawyer and cost of services is vital in choosing the lawyer that best fits your needs. Some lawyers can be very creative in how they bill their clients, and without knowing what to look for, the average client is ill-equipped in the decision-making process. Thus, this post is not meant to castigate our peers, but rather, educate the consumer as to how to make an informed choice.
Whether choosing a new lawyer, or evaluating your existing choice, here are a few billing red flags that you may want to consider:
Q. Does your lawyer want a contingency fee north of 40% in a litigation matter?
A. Most lawyers won’t go there, but if they do, here is a useful resource: http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/page.cfm?cid=14
Q. Is there a detailed retainer agreement in place, showing fees and disbursements that you could reasonably be charged? A. Retainer agreements are designed to protect you and the lawyer, and should define your professional relationship. One area on which clarity is useful is whether you are charged one single rate for lawyer time and assistant administration time, or whether you are charged both the lawyer’s hourly rate and an assistant’s hourly rate
Q. Do you see or hear from your lawyer other than when you receive a bill?
A. It’s nice, as a client, to know what is happening on your matter other than by reading the description in the statement of account
Q. If you’re promised a “team approach”, will you pay multiple times for the team members talking to one another or performing the same tasks?
A. When your lawyer-client relationship is properly defined from the outset, you will hopefully avoid “billing shock” that can result from a “team approach”
Q. Are you billed for every time your lawyer even contemplates doing something on your file?
A. At least they are thinking about you, right? Bad answer, we know…
Q. Are you charged what seems to be a high “file opening” or “file maintenance” fee, or for your lawyer faxing AND emailing the same document to the other side?
A. You need to be mindful of high disbursements. We believe that anything more than a two digit file opening/maintenance fee is too high, and we bill for accomplishing a task, not for the different methods used in accomplishing it.
There are many good lawyers out there that strike the balance between their clients’ needs and their own bottom line. Take the time to ask the right questions from the outset and always review your bill! Knowing what to look for will make you a better-informed client.
~ Nav Parhar