by Guest Author on March 27, 2014
How to Avoid Paying for Unnecessary Legal Fees
Some people fear dealing with attorneys for the same reason they fear dealing with mechanics.
If you’re not a car expert yourself, you tend to worry that the mechanic may take advantage of you, fixing things that were never broken and charging you for unnecessary labor. The problem is, you might not know enough about cars to call the guy out, so you grudgingly pay.
It’s the same kind of underhanded activity that gives attorneys a bad name and it’s called “over-lawyering.” As an individual or small business owner, legal fees could already be stretching you thin; the last thing you need is to pay for unnecessary work.
While most attorneys detest over-lawyering as much as you do, there are some out there who try it. Use these warning signs to make sure your lawyer is not one of them.
The Lawyer Shuffle
In a large firm, your files may end up getting shuffled around the office several times, between several lawyers. And, each one that touches it, bills it. Although your case may require a few attorneys, there is no reason that one document has to be approved by 3 different attorneys. Not only is this inefficient, it becomes costly for you. Make sure you know who is on your case and how the work will be divided amongst them so that you don’t end up paying for the same job more than once.
When you get the bill, look closely and make sure that it makes sense. Are these the tasks adaquately described? Are the times reasonable? It shouldn’t have taken an hour to write an e-mail, for example. Additionally, you can also request a copy of all correspondence and documents filed on your behalf if it wasn’t forwarded already. This will give you another way to verify your bill.
In the movies, it seems like all legal disputes end up in court. They don’t. In fact, many cases are resolved in mediation, where both parties meet with their legal counsel and a neutral mediator to attempt to come to an agreement.
This type of resolution brings the case to a quick close, which is what clients usually desire. Attorneys, however, have many fewer billable hours this way. So, overlawyering types might not present mediation as an option and, instead, jump right to litigation. If you find out that it is, indeed, a viable option but it hasn’t been offered, you should strongly consider looking for a new lawyer.
In the days of yore, most legal firms assumed operating costs and simply figured them into their hourly rates. These days, however, we see more and more legal firms nickel and dimming their clients for basic overhead expenditures like overtime for staff, postage and long-distance phone calls. While there are certainly some expenses you’ll be on the hook for, you may question the attorney’s costs of running a business.
When you’re paying an hourly rate, you don’t want any unnecessary work done on your behalf. It may be presented as if it was a favor, as in, “I went ahead and took care of this because I figured you’d need it.” Don’t misunderstand – it might not be not a favor, it could be more billable time.
Depending on the agreement you have made at the beginning of your work together and barring any emergencies, your lawyer should clear any additional, undiscussed work time with you before doing it. That way, you have the chance to ask how long it will take and how much it will cost before the bill arrives.
These warnings are not meant to scare or intimidate you. Most likely, your attorney would never use any of these shady practices. However, when it comes to your bank account and your legal case, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The main point is that your attorney should be completely transparent about the work and the bill. And, if there’s ever a doubt, you should feel totally comfortable asking questions and requesting documentation of that work. A good attorney-client relationship is built on trust. Ultimately, you need to feel that your lawyer prioritizes your interests, both financially and legally.
Have more legal questions? Get them answered at our Startup Law Summit on May 3rd.
About the Author
Andrew May, owner and president of May Law, PC, is a Chicago FINRA attorney specializing in financial services, commodities, futures, foreign exchange, options and securities law. With over 18 years of experience, Andrew has represented clients ranging from individuals and small business to Fortune 500 firms. For more information, visit May Law, PC or find him on Google+.