One potentially large component of your bill may be “discovery” costs. Discovery is the pre-trial process of obtaining evidence to support your case, which may involve a number of formal and informal techniques such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, subpoenas, depositions, requests for admissions, etc. Discovery can be very expensive depending on the amount and type of discovery involved. Some law firms may conduct blanket discovery, meaning that they will conduct the same general course of discovery for all cases. Others may conduct little to no discovery or only conduct discovery on a case to case basis. It is important to understand on the front end what types of discovery that your attorney anticipates as it will certainly have an impact on your bill.
All lawyers operate off of the same sets of statutes, rules and case law. However, an attorney with 30 years of experience will certainly have more tricks in his or her bag than an attorney straight out of law school. That said you may pay 2-3 times the hourly rate for that experience, which can equate to tens of thousands of dollars in additional legal fees over the course of a drawn-out case. It is important to find an attorney who has the experience to help but that also fits within your budget. Keep in mind that attorneys are not magicians and that in most situations the facts of the case, rather than the attorney presenting the facts, are what determine outcomes.
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It is prudent to assess the potential complexity of your case. Piggy backing off the first question, it may make more sense to spend additional money for a vastly experienced attorney if your case is highly complex, includes unique concepts and areas of law, and involves large sums of money.
Unfortunately, most of us don't have endless sums of money to spend on legal disputes. Assess what you have, what you can afford, and consider asking family members and friends for assistance if necessary. It does not make sense to enter into a legal agreement or payment plan that you will not be able to keep up with.
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It is common for a partner or seasoned member of a law firm to conduct an initial consultation only to pass the case on to a new attorney or associate to actually handle the work. It is also common for some attorneys to handle negotiations while others primarily handle litigation. Asking questions here should make it clear who you will be working with when hiring a law firm.
Settlement is often the least painful, least stressful, and least expensive means of handling a contentious law suit. It is important to understand what your attorney’s perspective is on settlement and how aggressively he or she will work to settle your case. As with the general population, attorneys all have different personalities when it comes to conflict resolution. Some attorneys are easy to communicate with and are willing to maintain an open dialogue throughout in hopes of reaching settlement. However, we also encounter attorneys that have no interest in settlement discussions and will litigate every issue to the fullest extent possible. Others won’t entertain settlement until the days or hours leading into hearing or trial, at which point the expense of litigation has likely already been incurred. There is a time and place for litigation and scenarios regularly arise in which settlement is not an option. However, if you have a desire to pursue settlement and you feel your attorney is not pursing settlement aggressively enough, you should voice your concerns.
Certain types of legal matters, such as transactional work, typically involve an easy estimate. However, legal fees can vary greatly from case to case, and the total cost in a complex transactional matter or a non-transactional contested matter may be impacted by a number of a factors including: the current facts of the case, future facts of the case, unforeseen happenings in a case, whether there is another attorney on the other side of the case, who the attorney on the side is, the personality of the client, and the need for advanced discovery. That said, hiring an attorney is a big investment and an attorney should attempt to give you a general idea or range of what your type of case typically costs.
There are a number of different options when it comes to fee structures in the legal world. The most common fee types are flat fees, retainers, and contingency fees. A flat fee involves a set amount of money for a set amount of work. Retainers are usually either a general retainer, a trust retainer, or a combination of the two. A general retainer is used to secure the services of the law firm and may or may not include payment for any actual work. Some firms may charge a pure general retainer just to hire the firm, and then bill you from there. A trust retainer is different in that it is deposited into a law firm’s trust account and then billed against at the firm’s hourly rate as work is completed for the client. A trust retainer is the client’s money until earned by the law firm. Any unearned balance remaining in a trust account at the end of representation must be returned to the client. A contingency fee is typically a percentage of proceeds that a law firm receives only if the client wins his or her case.
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It is important for clients to have realistic outlooks and expectations regarding their case. An attorney should be able to provide you with a general opinion of your case and a run down of potential outcomes. However, there are many unknowns in every case and it is impossible to know what is going to happen with a matter once it is put in front of a judge. As such, be wary of the attorney that promises you the moon.
Our Charlotte based lawyers practice primarily in the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, guardianship, criminal defense, traffic, and estate planning in Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties. Give us a call at 704-412-1442 today for answers to these questions or any others you may have about representation in your legal matter. OR, complete the contact form on this page and one of our lawyers will contact you shortly.
Whether dealing with a onetime transactional matter or drawn-out litigation, reasonable expectations should be set regarding the timing aspect of your case. Ask a potential attorney about how quickly he or she will be able to begin work on your case, and ask how long it will take to complete the work. The length of some types of cases can be difficult to estimate but an attorney should be able to give you a general idea of what to expect.
Once you know who your attorney will be, it is important to understand how accessible that attorney is and whether you will be working with that attorney primarily or with his or her paralegal. Will you be provided with your attorney's cell phone number? The answer here will likely vary greatly from firm to firm.
We often speak to clients that were disappointed with the lack of information they were provided in relation to their bills when working with law firms in the past. It is important to set that expectation on the front end by asking how billing will work, how often you will receive invoices/accounting, and how detailed those invoices will be.
People vary on how involved they want to be with their case. Too much involvement can be counterproductive and may increase your bill. However, there are often situations where a client can do legwork on his or her own which can save substantial money over the course of a lawsuit. An attorney should be able to give you tips on how to control your legal bill and may be able to assign legwork to you.
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Written by Bill Hunter, Hunter & Hein, Attorneys at Law, PLLC, 03/02/2017
* Please note that the following is not meant to provide legal advice. When involved in a legal dispute, it is important to consult with a lawyer in your area who is familiar with your local rules and procedures. If your matter is located in Mecklenburg or Cabarrus counties, we may be able to help. Contact us today at 704-412-1442 to speak to an attorney.
In hiring an attorney, you are likely making a significant investment to handle a sensitive situation…don’t be afraid to ask questions. The following are a few of the many questions that should be considered during the process of seeking a lawyer to complete legal work on your behalf: