If you spend $300 million or more a year on legal fees, this post is not for you. If, however, you need to hire a lawyer and are concerned about how – and how much – you will be billed, keep reading.
Certainly anyone who finds themselves needing to retain an attorney – whether a Fortune 100 company, a small business, or an individual – wants to make sure they are being billed fairly by their lawyer and that they are getting value for their money.
The folks who write $300 million checks to lawyers can go to insurance giant AIG for help managing their legal expenses, as the company recently set up a new entity whose sole purpose is to advise large businesses about the amounts they are paying their attorneys and “what the right costs for services are and the right value is for the services that are being delivered.”
But most folks aren’t going to be hiring a whole other company to make sure that happens.
When you hire an attorney for a business or personal matter, your assurance that your lawyer is being straight up with you on their fees and billing practices will largely hinge on open and honest communication between you and your lawyer. This should include establishing clear expectations as well as dialogue about how and why you are being billed.
Clear Expectations – Even When Things Are Unclear
I have a fairly diverse practice, encompassing estate planning, family law, and transactional matters as well as litigation. With litigation in particular, the process can be and usually is lengthy, time-consuming, and notoriously unpredictable.
Cases can be resolved fairly early in a dispute (which is always the hope and goal) or the conflict can metastasize into a matter that takes a long and winding road to trial, on to post-judgment motions and appeals and perhaps another round in the trial court, just to name a few possibilities.
I let my clients know upfront about the dangers and potential costs of litigation, and those discussions not only set expectations but play a role in the strategy we decide upon going forward. It is vital that clients go into a lawsuit with a clear understanding that the amount in fees that may be expended is unclear. This does not mean you are writing a blank check. It does mean that you know what you may be in for so you can plan accordingly.
While estate planning and business transaction matters may have more predictability than litigation, the necessity of setting expectations upfront is no less important. I provide my clients with either a set fee or a range within which they can expect their matter to cost.
By having these discussions at the outset, we can avoid surprises or misunderstandings down the line, and we can incorporate any questions or concerns about costs into our planning.
A Dialogue, Not Just a Bill
From our first meeting until your matter is concluded, I want you to feel and believe that I will be fair, transparent, and accommodating in my billing practices. I want you to know what to expect in the future and what has been done for you in the past. I want you to review and fully understand your bills and reach out to me if something is unclear. If your case has taken a turn that will result in a monthly bill being particularly high, I will make every effort to give you a heads-up so that you can plan accordingly.
Finally, I know that if you are paying for my services, you are likely doing so because circumstances have made it a necessary or prudent move in order to protect your interests or advance your goals. Part of protecting your interests is being judicious in my billing and cutting time from my bills on occasion.
My fundamental role as a lawyer is to help people who need legal assistance. To that end, I will work with you to find an arrangement that fairly allows me to do so.
At the end of our legal journey together, you should feel that my bills are fair, reasonable, and within the expectations set throughout the course of your matter – even if you spend a little less than $300 million.