When you think of an attorney what is it that you think of? A good honest individual that will work with you on prices? No probably not, you probably worry that you will be charged more than you can afford to hire an attorney. While its true that there are a few good attorneys that will work with you on prices and whose fees are reasonable. Unfortunately there are also those attorneys who routinely charge more than is necessary or reasonable for their legal services.
The biggest mistake that many people make is assuming that the attorney will always win and that there is nothing that they can do if treated unfairly or over charged. Never give in to this line of thinking. There are things that you can do to protect yourself against unfair attorneys fees. Please note however that nothing in this article constitutes legal advice. It is always best for you to consult an attorney.
1). Always get a contract. One of the biggest ways to protect yourself is called a client engagement contract. In most states attorneys are required for their protection and yours to provide you with this contract. It gives an outline of what the attorney will do to assist you in your legal matters, what the set hourly fee or flat rate will be, if there is a cap on the fees (a set limit to where the fees cannot rise above), and your rights and obligations towards your attorney and your legal matter. If you hire an attorney to work for you whether the legal issue is big or small, you need for your own protection to obtain an engagement contract.
2). Be informed. Google the rules of attorney procedure for your state and it will have a section regarding the proper application of attorney’s fees. From these rules you can question your attorney if you have any questions. You can also call the bar association for your state and request some info on what attorneys are and are not allowed to charge. Request a print out and instructions for what you should do if you feel that you were over charged.
3). Monthly Accounting. As a client you are entitled to a monthly accounting of what the attorney did for you regarding your case. Ask and keep these in your record for reference. Look over them when you get them and call your attorney’s office if you have any questions. Keep in mind that sometimes mistakes will happen, but if you are routinely double billed, billed for something that was unrelated to you or your case then you should seek the advice of alternate legal counsel or the state bar association.
4). Keep track of payments. Most states require attorneys to use some form of a trust account. The attorney is not automatically entitled to all of the monies given at the time of engagement. The monies are to be placed in the trust account and used for the attorney to bill against. You should still receive monthly accountings for the work performed. When the trust account runs dry your attorney will either ask you to replenish it or give you the option of monthly installments upon receipt of billing amount owed. Regardless of what you choose keep an accurate record of everything that you put in. Always get a receipt and if possible pay with a check or a credit card as they are easily track-able.
In conclusion, by following the simple steps above, you can protect yourself against any unfair attorneys fees. By being prepared and vigilant you can better keep things at an affordable rate. Don’t be afraid to ask another attorney or the state bar if you feel that you are not getting a good deal and your attorney cannot give you an reasonable explanation of his or her fees.