Why is this lawyer charging me again?
September 23, 2013 12:50 PM   Subscribe

I recently met with a lawyer to get a document reviewed. I had sent him my document that morning to look over before we met. At the end of our meeting he said once I had put in his suggested changes I could send him the document and he'd look over it again. His charge was $60, which I immediately paid. About a week later I sent him the document with his changes incorporated to look over again. If it matters, I had added a clause of maybe three sentences to the document that wasn't in the first version. I've now received another invoice for $60 from the lawyer, charging me for a second review. I didn't expect to get billed again since he was the one who offered to look at it again. Is he justified in billing me for a second review? What should I do if he's not justified?
posted by lillian.elmtree to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry, but when he offered to take a look at it again, he meant in his professional capacity, for which he gets paid.
posted by Etrigan at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2013 [28 favorites]


He's a lawyer. He may well bill you for billing you. This is how the game works.
posted by xmutex at 12:56 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


You took a cab home and paid the fare and the cabbie said "hey, let me know if you need another ride." So you did need another ride and took the cab. I assume you would expect there to be a fare again, even though the cabbie offered you another ride, right?

It is a safe assumption that any time a lawyer spends on your stuff is time you will be billed for.
posted by griphus at 12:56 PM on September 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


To clarify an earlier comment, which I am sure was intended to be hyperbolic, it is absolutely a violation of ethical guidelines for an attorney to bill you for the time s/he spends on your bill, in whatever capacity.
posted by janey47 at 1:00 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unless he's looking at it again because of a clear error on his part, which doesn't sound like the case here at all, he's perfectly entitled to bill for it. Time he spends working on your document is billable time. Why do you think it is not justified? If this is an issue for you, I'd suggest being upfront with your lawyer about your finances and budget.
posted by zachlipton at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2013


He provided you a service for which you are now being billed.
posted by elizardbits at 1:01 PM on September 23, 2013


He is justified. He did work for you. By the way, those three sentences could have changed the meaning of the entire document. He would not know until he read it.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:02 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The lawyer is entitled to bill you for whatever work he does for you.

That said, if you genuinely thought that his second review was covered by the first, call him up and explain that. He may cut you a deal on the basis of your shared misunderstanding. (Or he might not.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:04 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(I would add, however, that $60 for a document review, and his assumption of liability for his advice on that document, sounds a rock-bottom low price already, even when he does it twice.)
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Guess I got that one wrong! I didn't expect to get a laugh out of getting billed. Thanks. I haven't had much experience with lawyers and am used to thinking of invoices on a per project basis, so I misinterpreted the definition of 'review'. I appreciate being set straight.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 1:09 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it definitely sounds as though your lawyer was billing you hourly and you assumed that the $60 was for the job looking over the document, and you should probably contact him about the misunderstanding, but the billing makes sense and is probably justified.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2013


Lawyer here. Based on what you described, he was justified. We don't work for free any more than you do. By the way, he's really cheap. My rates are pretty reasonable for my market and $60 would get you a small fraction of an hour of my time.

To clarify an earlier comment, which I am sure was intended to be hyperbolic, it is absolutely a violation of ethical guidelines for an attorney to bill you for the time s/he spends on your bill, in whatever capacity.

We bill for fee entitlement and amount fights all the time. In fact, it is usually the case where you can recover your fees from the other side when you are fighting about the entitlement to fees.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most lawyers, for $60, would happily write off this amount to retain your goodwill.

Actually, if I had agreed to review a document for a client for a measly $60 - and just so you understand, by virtue of this "quick review" I now *own* whatever problems that come up down the line with this document - and the client wanted a follow-up review for which I also charged only a measly $60, and then the client called me up to complain about the bill, I would write off that amount and then never take that person's calls again.
posted by chicxulub at 1:15 PM on September 23, 2013 [24 favorites]


Lawyers bill by the hour. Have you ever heard a lawyer joke before?

I don't know what your project is or what you're getting from this lawyer, but it sounds to this not-currently-practicing lawyer like you are getting a steal here, for the reasons chicxulub mentions above. Pay them for their time.
posted by gauche at 1:18 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, some attorneys work on a flat, per-project rate, but the billable hour prevails, and under that system your attorney will expect to be paid for time spent on the project, usually measured in tenths of an hour.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:24 PM on September 23, 2013


I haven't had much experience with lawyers and am used to thinking of invoices on a per project basis, so I misinterpreted the definition of 'review'.

I just wanted to add for future reference that it is possible for lawyers to bill on a "per project basis," so to speak, but that kind of arrangement (indeed, any billing arrangement) should be set out in writing in a retainer agreement. It sounds like maybe this is an informal kind of thing, in which case you should know that in a lot of markets $120 would get you a fraction of an hour's worth of time from an experienced, established lawyer, and quibbling about $60 is literally not worth a lawyer's time.

Should you require an attorney's services in the future, ask about flat-fee billing. That's the "per project" basis you were thinking of, where you tell the lawyer, "I'd like you to review this contract for me," and the lawyer says, "okay, I will charge $1,000 for reviewing this contract, anything above and beyond reviewing the contract will be on an hourly basis and/or we will have to renegotiate." Alternatively, you provide your lawyer a retainer, your lawyer bills hourly, and lets you know when that retainer has run out.
posted by yasaman at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was a misunderstanding, just as MoonOrb described it. I would've thought twice before taking him up on the offer for another review if I'd understood it wasn't included in the initial fee. I am now more enlightened as to the intricacies of lawyer billing. In the future, I won't make such assumptions when a lawyer offers me his or her services. Incidentally, I have no problem paying it if it's justified. It was the principle of it.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2013


"...by virtue of this "quick review" I now *own* whatever problems that come up down the line with this document...

I just wanted to emphasize this bit -- $60 for a document review is already a goodwill price. It is covering the costs of his filing and record-keeping, in case you do come back with problems based on his advice, and not much else. He's already not making money on this. He is already doing you a favour, at this low, low rate*.

I have no idea what the rates actually are in your jurisdiction, but... wow.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


You got a bargain, twice. $120 for document review, is, as noted, well below the going rate, and an unexpected $60 charge is an inexpensive but important introduction to how lawyers bill.
posted by Good Brain at 1:53 PM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry if this is considered thread-sitting, but everyone's commenting on the price. This was a formal law office's advertised price, located in a small town of just over 100k, mainly students. In fact, think they review a lot of documents for students. The lawyer is very young so I assume just starting out and it was a short document of fairly standard stuff, if any of that makes a difference. I was of course very happy with the price. My next option was $200.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 2:06 PM on September 23, 2013


You should always clarify/confirm billing practices with your lawyer at the outset. He was apparently billing you for his time rather than a flat fee.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:54 PM on September 23, 2013


To follow up, in many jurisdictions it is required or strongly suggested that the attorney provide you with a letter of engagement before rendering services. Here are some sample letters from the ABA as well as some guidelines. This letter would outline the billing practices (flat fee, hourly, per page, etc), the scope of representation, and your rights and responsibilities. When billing hourly, there is often a fee estimate and a statement that once you reach the estimate, they will contact you for approval of further billings.

Even in jurisdictions that do not require this, any lawyer worth his/her salt would provide you with a similar document (it protects them as well as you). If you received and signed a document like this, then it should outline the terms of this lawyer's representation of you; if you did not receive one, then I would consider not using this lawyer in the future.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:51 AM on September 24, 2013


I'm doing some thinking about my own legal career as I look for a new job, and this thread popped back into my head. Specifically, I think it might be useful to consider that, from a lawyer's perspective, reviewing document X + edits amounts to reviewing a totally new document. I can imagine an extreme case of this in which the entire meaning and intention of a contract can be inverted merely by the insertion of the word "not" in a single clause of the contract. So from the lawyer's perspective, sending them your revisions is basically hiring them a second time to do the task.

I agree that they should make their billing practices clear up front. If you're so inclined, you would be doing them a favor to suggest that, but you are of course under no obligation to do so.
posted by gauche at 10:58 AM on October 6, 2013


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