Depending on the nature of one’s legal problem, hiring a lawyer may be necessary. Just like a doctor, accountant or anyone who provides professional services, a lawyer must always be selected with great care. Part of the selection process should include a candid discussion about fees. The nature of your legal issue, the amount of time needed for research, filing papers and appearing in court, along with, the reputation and experience of the lawyer will help to determine what the billing procedure will be and the lawyer’s rate of charge. Types of fees can include: by the hour, a percentage fee, a flat fee, a contingency fee, or a retainer fee. Understanding lawyer retainer fees can help you control your finances better and help you make better financial decisions when working with your lawyer. Here is what you need to know about paying a retainer fee.
Most lawyers prefer to charge by the hour . So, if you speak with the lawyer on the phone, you could be billed for the entire conversation, even if the nature of the call had nothing to do with your legal matter. It’s important to know if your legal fees will cost more than you can afford and what you can do to help bring down the cost.
It is important to understand the fees when you hire an a lawyer. A retainer fee is usually applied when a legal bill is high and the work is ongoing. The client normally receives many legal services from the lawyer or law firm for a fixed monthly payment. It is a good idea to understand the cost of all the services you will receive and their cost at your initial consultation. The retainer fee is usually non-refundable. You will also want to know if the unused money is usually refundable. Ask for an itemized estimate, terms in which the agreement can be revised and the billing cycle. Then, get it in writing.
The agreement should explain the attorney’s billing practices and disclose whether the lawyer is going to add interest or other charges to unpaid amounts. If the lawyer has a pre-written fee agreement for you to sign, feel free to ask the lawyer to change parts of the agreement or make up a new one especially for your situation. If you’re not sure what to ask your lawyer regarding your fee agreement, bring some one with you at your initial meeting to help you out.
The most common use of a retainer fee is for a down payment and all legal fees will be deducted from it. It is the client’s responsibility to periodically check the amount in the account. When the funds are gone, the lawyer may ask you to replace the retainer amount or bill you the ballance due. Always get an itemized receipt for any additional payments.
A true retainer is a fee is paid to the lawyer (usually monthly or annually) to retain or keep the lawyer available to the client. Many lawyer bill their clients at a higher rate for this type of service because it means they will have to turn down other potential clients or cases to be available for the client on retainer. This fee is often paid by large corporations to make sure they have access to their lawyers whenever they need advice or representation.
Ask as many questions as possible about the billing procedure because you must understand the terms of the fees arrangement completely. Your itemized bill should include: date of service; time spent; amount charged; expenses incurred; advances received; the total amount due on the case; and the period of time covered by the bill. In most cases lawyers do not give you exact figures of the total bill because the bill amount depends on the time they take with your case and this will be determined only as your case proceeds. So, you will have to be satisfied with rough estimates.
To lower your legal bill, offer your time. Ask if you can make phone calls, fax documents, pick up or deliver documents, to reduce your legal costs. Review the conditions of your agreement. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions about the fees and billing procedure. For example, find out if the lawyer is likely to increase their fees. If so, what are the circumstances that would warrant the change. Any changes should be noted on your itemized billing statements. Do not sign the agreement if you don’t fully understand it, or if something you have requested is not included or vice versa. Avoid verbal agreements without a written record.
You have the right to know how your lawyer spent their time, money and resources on your case. When you receive your bill review it carefully. Take your time. It should show your lawyer’s fees and expenses with an appropriate explanation for each. For example, if you were charged an hourly rate for a unspecified service, make sure you know the specifics of the service. Contact the lawyer and ask for an explanation. Make sure the charges add up. If they do not, give your lawyer a call. It’s probably an honest mistakes. If you find any other mistakes or discrepancies in your bill, don’t hesitate to call and resolve the issue.
If you find that you are unable to pay your bill, call your lawyer as soon as possible. Try and work out an agreement. Failure to do so may result in losing your lawyer’s legal counsel and having a lien placed on your house or property to secure the fees.
Fees can vary from lawyer to lawyer or law firm to law firm. Ask lots of questions to help you determine if the layer’s fees are affordable and reasonable. It also helps build a strong attorney-client relationship and avoid any surprises when you get the bill.