2 questions about hiring a lawyer
November 23, 2022 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm helping someone who is hiring a lawyer for the first time. The lawyer just sent a contract asking for a large retainer fee + an hourly rate. I understand why the lawyer probably wouldn't want to provide an estimate for about how many hours they think this might take, because that would be speculation. But is that actually common or uncommon? And also, does the contract usually specify how often hourly fees will be billed? If not, is there a convention or a typical practice for this?

Just trying to potentially avoid a situation where the bank account is hemorrhaging money uncontrollably, you know.
posted by bleep to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I was recently looking for a lawyer and the person I googled (fancy law firm) wouldn’t talk to me without a large retainer, but I was able to get a personal recommendation of someone who would just do a consultation for their fixed price hourly price (time it takes to read the documents and answer the questions I had) and I think it helped I had the personal recommendation and could say so and so recommended you.
posted by pairofshades at 11:52 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I realize I didn’t actually answer you question! Apologies!
posted by pairofshades at 11:53 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I don't think the retainer agreement is going to have an estimate of the total cost but you ought to be able to get some kind of ballpark from the lawyer. At least something like, it'll be approximately $X to prepare and file the claim, $Y to deal with discoveries, and if we ended up going to trial it would be at least $Z but could be significantly higher.

As far as how often will your friend be billed, I think it is better for everyone if it is done on a regular basis like monthly. That way your friend knows that work is being done and also they aren't presented with a huge bill at some random point.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:58 AM on November 23 [1 favorite]


Best answer: The contract should specify how often the client gets billed. If it doesn't, the client should have no hesitation in asking for written clarification on that point. Monthly is common but the client shouldn't have to guess.

It is also perfectly standard practice to request that the client be notified when certain billing thresholds are passed (e.g., $5K, $10K, $15K), even mid-billing cycle, and to allow for discussion as to whether to proceed at that point.
posted by praemunire at 12:01 PM on November 23 [5 favorites]


The contract should specify the precise nature of the work being performed, all applicable hourly rates as well as the increment used (usually in increments of 0.1 hours), applicable small-value charges (e.g., copying costs) and how potential larger-value charges (e.g., filing fees) are handled, frequency of billing (e.g., monthly, at conclusion, etc.), and any other relevant items. If you want to have “check with me” billing milestones, that is something that should be possible to work into the contract. The attorney should be up front about reasonably predictable billing for the matter (e.g., less than $5,000, around $15,000, between $10,000 and $20,000, etc.). If your friend has significant financial constraints, this is something that should be discussed with the attorney.
posted by slkinsey at 12:43 PM on November 23


Also, the kind of case it is, the scope of what's in dispute and how entrenched the opposition is all can have a dramatic effect on how predictable the fees and costs are. In an adversarial proceeding, the other side gets a say in how things go.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:04 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


I understand why the lawyer probably wouldn't want to provide an estimate for about how many hours they think this might take, because that would be speculation. But is that actually common or uncommon?

A ballpark estimate of the total cost (obviously non-binding) is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask for.

And also, does the contract usually specify how often hourly fees will be billed? If not, is there a convention or a typical practice for this?

It should. As others have noted, monthly is the most common frequency, but absolutely have whatever frequency you agree to specified in the agreement.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:12 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


Nthing that the agreement should specify as to frequency of billing. Monthly is typical, though some firms may wait until fees accrued cross a certain threshold.

You should ask about expected cost. If the lawyer isn't able to discuss it in a way that seems useful, I would keep looking around.
posted by lookoutbelow at 1:35 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


I would also note that a retainer larger then the amount of expected billing is common, it just protects the lawyer from clients who keep adding on work or asking for changes. So just because the retainer is $X doesn’t mean the lawyer actually thinks they’re going to be billing up to $X to that client.
posted by tiamat at 1:42 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


The client can request particular financial terms. I wouldn't worry too much about what is usual. Clients can and do request budgets and/or caps for specified projects, and can and do require fees to be billed at specified intervals. Clients can also request regular updates on fees incurred to date, for example semi-monthly.
posted by prefpara at 5:06 PM on November 23 [1 favorite]


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