Before you enter into a legal agreement with your chosen attorney, it would be in your best interest to have an understanding of the attorney FEES so you can build a strong client-attorney working relationship with your lawyer without any financial disputes, which on the other hand would help your lawyer fully FOCUS on your case.
Lawyers consider several factors when setting their fees. It depends on how COMPLICATED your case is and the amount of time it will take to resolve the matter. Even though the trial itself may not take that long, preparing may take days, weeks and even months. In some cases unexpected developments may take place that will complicate your situation even further, which would result in higher fees. Ask your attorney to ESTIMATE the cost and time that would take for your case and to include it in your fee agreement. You may want to negotiate a limit on your total fees to protect you from these uncertainties.
Actually, you and your lawyer can NEGOTIATE almost any type of fee agreement. You need to discuss this with your attorney and find a happy medium that will work for both of you. Don't forget that your main goal is winning your case. The fees need not to spin you out of focus that may result in losing your case. On the other hand, if one attorney is not willing to meet you half way in regards to your ability in making the payment, consider talking to ANOTHER attorney.
SOLIDIFY YOUR ARRANGEMENT
By law, contingency fees and non-contingency fees anticipated to be $1,000 or more must be in WRITING. But, it's best to get any fee arrangement in writing no matter the amount. This way, both you and your lawyer will know what to expect from each other as you work together on your case. Also, it steers clear from any confusion and misunderstanding that may affect your outcome. Try to avoid making ORAL agreements. But if you do make one with your lawyer, make a written note of it.
Your fee agreement needs to include what services are and aren't covered under that agreement as well as the type and amount of fees you will be expected to pay. It could explain the attorney's BILLING practices and state whether the lawyer is going to add interest or other charges to unpaid amounts. The lawyer may have a pre-printed fee agreement for you to sign. However, nothing is set in stone. You can always ask the lawyer to CHANGE parts of the agreement or make up a new one especially for your situation.
KNOW WHAT YOU'RE GETTING INTO
Do not SIGN the agreement if you don't fully understand it. Also, do not sign it if something you have requested is not included or vice versa. Once you sign it, you fully AGREE to it. When you get your bill, it's too late. Every story that you read about people complaining against their attorneys regarding fees, it's because the client signed up to something that they didn't fully understand. Or, they've made oral agreements with no record.
INITIAL CONSULTATION FEE
Make sure you ask what the fee is when you make your FIRST appointment. Some attorneys charge their usual hourly rate for this visit, some charge a reduced rate, while others offer free initial consultations. This visit is where you get to INTERVIEW the attorney and the attorney gets to hear your legal issue. Usually by the end of this initial consultation you will know whether you want to hire this lawyer, and the lawyer will decide if he or she wants to take your case. Don't expect to get much legal advice, if any, during this visit.
The more experience the lawyer has, more confidence he or she has in handling your case, therefore they could charge more. At your initial consultation, always ask the lawyer to estimate how long your case will take. But, don't forget that circumstances may change, and your case may take LONGER than the lawyer expected at the beginning. Remember, if the lawyer decides to charge you by the hour, he or she will track and bill every minute spent working for you. This includes answering your phone calls, preparing documents, doing research, talking to the other side's lawyer, going to court and so on. In addition to that, don't forget to ask if OTHER attorneys or employees at the firm will be spending time on your case and at what rate, because you will be billed for their time too.
PAYING YOUR FEES
A lawyer may ask you to sign a PROMISSORY note as security for the fees. Also, a bankruptcy attorney will require payment in advance, since that fee, if not paid before filing bankruptcy is dischargeable by you in the bankruptcy. If you have an hourly agreement, you might want to be billed weekly or monthly to give you a chance to review the services performed by your lawyer and to justify whether you're receiving a fair value. Ask your lawyer to provide in the bill a break down of the time spent on each task and to describe the work performed for each charge. In any case, always ask for a RECEIPT for fees you have paid. In case of a dispute, the receipt is your evidence.
STANDARD, FLAT, OR FIXED FEE
This is a SET fee used for ROUTINE legal matters, such as drawing up a will, purchase or a sale of a property, title examination, handling an uncontested divorce, and such. It basically means that regardless of how much time the lawyer spends, this fee is used when the lawyer is performing a specific service with a predictable time commitment. You need know what this fee does and does not include -- and to ask your lawyer whether the fee could change if your case becomes unexpectedly complex.
The most common type of a retainer fee is a down payment or a DEPOSIT. The client would put money into a special account, and the lawyer deducts fees as services are completed. The client is responsible for reviewing the account periodically. The legal fees will be SUBTRACTED from the retainer until the retainer is used up. Then, the lawyer will either ask you to pay another retainer or bill you for the additional time spent on your case. Your lawyer needs to explain the details of your retainer agreement to you in advance, since there are several different types of retainer agreements. The retainer fee is usually non-refundable. Also, the unused money from this retainer agreement is usually refundable.
This type of fee agreement means that you will pay your lawyer a certain PERCENTAGE (usually one third) of the money you recover if you WIN your case or if you settle out of court. If you lose, the lawyer doesn't get paid. However, whether you win or lose you still have to pay any court costs and other expenses. Make sure you get the contingency fee agreement in writing and it must spell out the percentage the lawyer will get. Also, it needs to include whether this percentage is figured before or after costs and expenses have been deducted.
You may be required to pay for EXTRA expenses -- like filing fees; word processing, photocopying and fax; secretarial time and overtime; telephone, courier, and postage charges; reporting and court costs; lawyer travel expenses; expert, consultant, and investigator fees; and jury and witness fees. Make sure that you're not taken by surprise with any HIDDEN costs or expenses. Also, find out if you must pay these costs as they arise or reimburse your lawyer for these expenses. You can ask for a written estimate of anticipated additional costs -- or determine a dollar amount over which costs have to be approved by you in advance.
This article does not represent nor REPLACE the legal advice you need to get from a lawyer, or other professional if the content of the article involves an issue you are facing.
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