Save Headaches and Heartaches as a Result of Legal Fee Issues

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David Paige, Founder of Legal Fee AdvisorsBy David Paige

The majority of us have worked with a lawyer to resolve billing issues at some time or another. But what happens when you have a billing issue with the lawyer? What do you do? Do you just pay up and make the issue “go away?

Most people will pay up. Why? Why is it that people (and businesses) are afraid to challenge bills from their lawyers? Maybe it’s because “lawyers are always right” or because “lawyers always win” or because they have some secret power over their clients? No. None of this is true.

Perhaps it’s because sometimes we end up working with greedy and unethical lawyers who are prone to take individuals and businesses to the cleaners – and just expect them to “roll over and take it!” Regardless, you can fight back. We can help you learn how.

First, you should understand there are common practices that some law firms employ that can inflate billing, including:

  • Billing for administrative or clerical tasks at legal service rates;
  • Charging for standard firm overhead or disbursements at a profit;
  • Not communicating clearly about charges involved with the time, effort and expense of representation; and
  • Undue inefficiencies in servicing clients, such as overstaffing.

Legal Fee Advisors offers five common sense rules you should follow when it comes to working with a lawyer and managing legal fees – and this goes for companies, individuals or even for internal lawyers managing outside counsel. 

Unfortunately, individuals and businesses alike often ignore these “rules”, but following them can help prevent “surprises” and set precedents when you need to fight a legal bill: 

1.    Require a “Good Faith” estimate, especially if the firm does not use set fee agreements for litigation: Know what the law firm is likely to charge in advance of agreement so there are no surprises, especially if they are likely to have to go to court on your behalf. If the estimate changes, make sure that it is revised in writing.

2.    Make an agreement in advance: Know what you will be paying for the work being done; anything above and beyond “normal” should be discussed with you in advance, approved in writing and be charged at a reasonable rate.

3.    Work with your law firm to make sure their bills are clear: Know what you should be charged and how it will be invoiced. Each law firm bills clients differently, but all charges should be clearly laid out on each bill. If you cannot understand a charge, don’t pay it until you do.

4.    Learn about “best practices” in billing: Know what to expect in writing from your law firm, including how they invoice. All work should be itemized and easy to identify – and you should never pay for “overheads” like office expenses and utilities. You should not be paying for duplicative work, attorneys doing clerical work, and inefficient teaming of too many attorneys for a task.

5.    Consistently have dialogues to monitor what your law firm is charging: Know what they are doing for you and what each invoice covers to identify how your account adds up. Don’t pay for services that were not agreed in writing or approved in advance; be sure that each invoice matches what was agreed. 

Bottom line: follow this advice, and you can resist being taken for a ride by attorneys and save money, headaches and heartaches. 

David Paige, Founder of Legal Fee Advisors (https://www.legalfeeadvisors.com/), is one of the nation’s foremost experts on the propriety of legal fees and billings and licensed to practice law in the state of New York and holds insurance broker licenses in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia and has been admitted pro haec vice in other states. He has affiliations with the American Bar Association’s Section on Professional Responsibility, the New York City Bar Association, the Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers and the National Association of Legal Fee Analysts.