In your initial meeting with your lawyer, you should discuss the lawyer's fees and the fee arrangement. Your fee agreement should set out the services the lawyer will perform for you, the types of fees, and the amount you should expect to pay. The agreement should also identify how your lawyer handles other costs and explain their billing practices.
What To Ask Your Lawyer About Fees
Your discussions with your lawyer about fees and costs might cover the following topics:
- The type of fee arrangement: How will the lawyer bill? Will the lawyer bill on an hourly basis, is it a contingency fee arrangement, or will you pay a retainer fee?
- The types of allowable costs: Which costs will you have to pay? For example, will you have to pay for copying costs, and how much per page? Will you be responsible for electronic research charges? Make sure you and the lawyer agree on the costs you will pay and at what rate you will pay them.
- Estimated fees and costs: How much will your case cost? While the lawyer may not be able to determine the exact amount of time and effort required to handle your case, they should be in a position to give you an estimate of both fees and costs based upon experience handling cases similar to yours.
- Billing frequency and detail: You should determine how often you will be billed and whether there will be interest or other charges for unpaid amounts. The lawyer's bills should include details of the services provided and an itemization of costs. If the lawyer is working on a contingency arrangement, find out how often you will be billed for costs and when you will receive payment if you resolve your case favorably.
- Basic charges: If the lawyer charges by the hour, you should find out the minimum billing segment. Is it one-quarter or one-tenth of an hour or some other figure? For example, a lawyer may bill you for a tenth of an hour (six minutes) for a simple three-minute telephone call. You should also find out whether you will be billed for work by others -- associates, legal assistants, or paralegals – and the rate you should expect to pay for their work.
- Control: How much control will you have over fees and expenses? For example, do you want the lawyer to notify you when fees and expenses reach a certain amount?
Put It in Writing
It would help if you took notes during your discussions, so you know what terms you and the lawyer agreed to. Based on your discussions, you should have the fee arrangement put in writing before work starts on your case.
The lawyer may have a pre-printed fee agreement for you to sign. If the agreement does not include the terms you discussed with the lawyer, ask the lawyer to change the language. The agreement should state clearly what you and the lawyer agreed to do. At any time during your case, if your lawyer wants to revise the agreement, make them put it in writing if you agree to the changes but know that you can say no.