What They didn’t teach you at the Law School
Law School prepares you to think, write and research like a lawyer, but once you’re at the door of a law firm or a courtroom, there’s a whole new set of skills you need. The present series of articles aims to enrich a new lawyer with all these skills in order for him/her to excel.
As an advocate you need to be paid for the services rendered to your clients. But how much should you charge will depend upon a number of factors – the level of client’s problem; your own ability, experience and reputation; the novelty and difficulty of the case; the results obtained; and the costs involved. There could be some other factors such as your overhead expenses (rent, office equipment, computers, etc.) that may affect the fee charged.
There are several common types of fee arrangements that you can consider as an option:
You may charge a fixed or hourly fee for your first meeting where both you and your client will determine whether you as a lawyer can assist him.
You may charge a specific, total fee. The flat fee is usually charged if the case is relatively simple or routine such as a will or an uncontested divorce. But be sure you explain to your client exactly what that fee will and will not cover; say for example, tell him that the flat fee will not include expenses such as filing fee.
You can charge your client for each hour (or portion of an hour) that you work on his case. Say, for example, if your fee is ` 5000 per hour and you work on the case for 5 hours, the fee will be
` 25,000. This is the most typical fee arrangement.
The hourly rate depends on your experience, operating expenses, and the location of your practice. In small towns, lawyers tend to charge less while in major metropolitan areas, the norm is usually to charge high.
Lawyers with expertise in specialized areas may also charge much more. And the clients don’t mind paying more to an experienced lawyer since a lawyer with a lot of experience may be able to handle a complex problem more quickly. Also, an experienced attorney will be able to better estimate how many lawyer hours a particular matter will take to resolve.
You are paid a set fee, maybe based on your hourly rate. It’s like a “down payment” against which future costs are billed. The retainer is usually placed in a special account and the cost of services is deducted from that account as they accrue.
Many retainer fees are non-refundable unless the fee is deemed unreasonable by a court. A retainer fee can also mean that you are “on call” to handle your client’s legal problems over a period of time. Since this type of fee arrangement can mean several different things, be sure to explain the retainer fee arrangement to your client in detail.
Expenses and Court Costs
Little things add up. Carefully discuss with your client any anticipated miscellaneous costs so that you can estimate them up front and avoid any unpleasant surprises. Even though it is difficult to tell someone at the outset, be prepared to talk to your client about court costs, filing fees, secretarial time, and delivery charges. In addition, let him know about the cost of paralegals and other support staff. Tell him at the outset whether you are absorbing these costs as part of the representation, or will you charge separately for these services.
Make a provision for periodic, itemized billing. An itemized bill should list and describe all charges so that your client knows what you have done and how much of his retainer is gone.
The fee charged by you should be reasonable from an objective point of view. The fee should be tied to specific services rendered, time invested, the level of expertise provided, and the difficulty of the matter.
*Executive Editor, Lawyers Update; Director General, Universal Institute of Legal Studies