Hiring an Attorney Understanding Your Lawyer's Bill: Legal Costs, Expenses & Fees

  1. The cost of legal services involves two components – a fee for the lawyer’s time worked on a case and the additional related costs and expenses. Even if a lawyer is retained on a contingency fee (where a client only pays for legal services only after winning a case), the client is still typically responsible to pay legal costs and expenses. Before hiring a lawyer, you will probably want to know all about lawyer billing - what costs are included in the legal fees and what costs will be billed separately.

    Determining Costs on Your Lawyer’s Bill

    Billing practices of law offices vary. It is important to manage expectations concerning the bill from your lawyer at the start of your relationship. You may want to ask your lawyer the following questions:
    • What costs and expenses are included in legal services fees?
    • What additional costs and expenses will be the client’s responsibility?
    • Are the legal costs listed in one lump sum or itemized separately in the lawyer’s bill?
    • When are these legal costs due?
    • Are these costs listed in the lawyer’s retainer agreement?

    List of Common Legal Costs

    The following is a list of common legal costs and expenses that you may be charged in addition to the time your lawyer has spent working on your case.
    • Filing fees and court costs (usually due close to when incurred)
    • Photocopying costs
    • Telephone charges
    • Facsimile / fax costs
    • Postage charges
    • Messenger services
    • Process Servers (trained people who deliver legal documents relating to your case)
    • Research costs and private investigator fees
    • Deposition and court reporter costs
    • Expert and consultant fees
    • Expert witness fees (when an expert appears in court)
    • Travel expenses
    • Staff time – paralegals, legal secretaries and other staff

    Your lawyer may include some, all or additional costs and expenses in the bill for legal services. It is important to make sure that you are provided with a complete list from your lawyer.

    Reviewing and Negotiating Legal Costs

    If these costs are not enumerated in the lawyer’s retainer agreement, you will probably want to make sure that you obtain a list in writing prior to engagement. In addition, you will want to ask about rates, such as the cost per page of photocopying or sending a fax. In the event you find the billing amount of some items to be excessive (e.g. $0.25 per page), you should negotiate a better rate with your lawyer. Any modified amount should be reflected in the retainer agreement or in an addendum that is signed by your lawyer.
    Lawsuits, Disputes:
    Legal Practice: Hiring an Attorney, Retainer Agreements

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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