"How much is this going to cost?" - Prospective Client
So, you've found a lawyer or law firm that you like and have scheduled a consultation. Everything is going great at your consult, you're getting along with the lawyer and you really think this is the right person and firm for your case. It is after the details are discussed and the case is assessed that the question turns to the attorney's fees and costs to take on the case. "How much is this going to cost," asks the prospective client, "it depends," says the lawyer. Besides having likely heard "it depends" multiple times throughout the consultation, prospective clients are often left with questions on how attorney billing truly works outside of being told "we bill by the hour", or "by flat-rate", or "by contingency."
Here at The Hosner Law Group, we are committed to helping our clients understand not just the legal issues they face, but also how the process of billing functions. Remember, not all firms structure their billing systems and bill the same way, so please note that our descriptions are exclusive to our firm, you will need to ask the lawyer you are meeting with if outside The Hosner Law Group for an explanation of their billing practices.
Billable Hour: The billable hour model is likely the most well-known billing system for the average American and is the most common among attorneys. Each attorney that works at the firm is set at an hourly rate that is then billed at. The upfront cost by the client is typically the highest in the billable hour model, this cost is known as a retainer. The retainer will need to be maintained by the client throughout the case in order to make sure the attorney is being compensated for their time and efforts. Billing by the hour works by having the attorney working on the file start a timer that tracks every second and minute of the work that is performed. For every six minutes that is worked on a case a billing of a .1 is incurred. So if half an hour is worked on a case, that would be a .5 billing. Billable work is defined in the retainer and representation agreement that the client enters into with the attorney and firm. This work typically includes emails, phone calls, review of documents, drafting of documents, preparation for hearings and/or drafting, legal research, communication with the opposing attorney, etc. Some firms include minimum billing entries, such as that no billing below a .1 is entered, but this is firm-specific and is not something practiced at The Hosner Law Group, we only bill for time actually performed. Be sure to understand what is and isn't billable work with the firm you are working with, and if you ever believed you are being over-billed, raise a comment with your attorney, and if things seem fishy you can always go to the Florida Bar with a complaint.
Flat-Rate: Just as it sounds, a flat-rate billing system charges only a set amount. Typically, a flat-rate fee is used for things such as a cease and desist and/or demand letter, prenuptials, simple negotiations, contract reviews, wills, small claims, etc. Some attorneys will also perform "per diem" legal work, providing pleadings or other draftings and work on a piecemeal basis, ask us at The Hosner Law Group what this would look like for your case if interested in this method. Flat-rate work is typically legal work that isn't involved with litigation and simply requires certain actions to be performed or certain documents drafted. A retainer and representation agreement will be entered into between the client and the law firm describing the scope of the representation and work to be performed.
Contingency: The final method of billing comes in the form of contingency work. This billing structure is usually reserved for certain types of cases, most commonly seen in personal injury cases, medical malpractice, workers compensation, employment law, and others. This method requires no up-front costs by the client and instead bases the attorney compensation off of what is recovered. There are statutory limits in place in Florida that determine the max amount of what can be contracted for by an attorney and client, in most cases around 1/3 of the total recovered can be paid to the attorney upon recovery but this number fluctuates based upon a variety of factors. If your case loses, unless certain terms in the representation agreement indicate otherwise, the client typically walks away without paying anything and the law firm is stuck with the costs of the case - these can sometimes be exorbitant.
Before entering into a retainer and representation agreement with an attorney and law firm, make sure you ask all the necessary questions you need to in order to understand how much their representation will cost. It is impossible for a lawyer to predict how much a case will cost but they can oftentimes at least provide a ballpark figure to give an idea of what to expect. However, do not think this ballpark figure is set in stone nor is it going to be the final cost, It is always advisable to have a strong understanding of what you are being billed for and how your attorney's billing works. With this information, you can put your best foot forward to make sure your attorney is doing quality work on your behalf and by making sure you are not adding unnecessary time to your bill.