While many people understand how attorneys bill for their time, there are even more who are simply unaware of the process due to never having to hire a lawyer. This post will give some insight on the issue.
In that regard, an attorney does not sell a physical product or commodity. What attorneys sell is their time and experience. Like other businesses, attorneys typically have overhead to pay (building, utilities, staff, supplies, library costs, dues, fees, and many other costs). To pay these, attorneys charge you, the client, in a number of ways.
The first type of fee that may be charged in certain cases is a “flat fee”. This is usually a set price, not including any necessary expenses paid by the attorney on the clients behalf, for a specific service. For example, many attorneys have a set fee for representing a client in General Sessions Criminal Court (for example, $1,500 for a DUI 1st). This simply means that the attorney will handle the case to its conclusion no matter the time required.
The next type of fee would be a contingency fee. This type of fee is usually used in personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, workers comp and social security cases. What this means is that the attorney will work for you without any upfront money paid and will only be paid if you receive money from a trial or settlement. This is usually a percentage ranging from up to 20% in workers comp cases to 33-40% in other cases. The attorney will sometimes pay the client file expenses upfront with the expectation that these will be reimbursed at the end of the case.
Finally, many attorneys charge what is known as a “retainer fee” in many cases. This simply means that the attorney charges a fee to be paid upfront that will cover a certain number of hours in the case based on the attorneys hourly rate. For example, an attorney may charge a client a $2,500 retainer fee to represent them in a divorce based on an hourly rate of $250 per hour. This means that the retainer fee covers the first 10 hours of work in the case and if the attorneys time goes over that, then the client will be billed monthly, quarterly or at the end of the case. Personally, in contested cases, I set my retainer fee based on the minimum amount of time I expect to spend in the case based on my years of experience.
In Middle Tennessee, most attorneys that I know charge between $200-$350 per hour (and more in experienced Nashville lawyers). It may be possible to find some charging less, though I do not know of any. Additionally, you should know that your attorney will charge for all time he/she spends working on your file. In fact, most charge based on the tenth of an hour basis. This means that work is billed by rounding to the nearest 1/10th of an hour (i.e. 6 minutes = .10, 12 minutes = .20, and so on). Some attorneys charge for a consultation, some provide free consultations and other charge only for consultations that result in the attorney being retained.
Many fee disputes could be avoided simply by communicating. If you do not know what your attorney charges per hour, ask him/her before too much time is spent in your case. If you dispute a charge, don’t get angry, simply raise your concern with the attorney. If it is in error, I’m sure it will be corrected.
Of course, it is always best to communicate with your attorney and to be sure to timely pay any bills presented to you. The last thing you need is to owe an attorney who will not provide any more work for you until the outstanding fee is paid.
If you are in need of legal representation and want to be treated fairly, please contact The Reeves Law Firm for a confidential consultation today.