Hourly Fees

The most typical way lawyers charge for time they spend on their cases is by charging an hourly rate. Most lawyers bill their time in fractions of an hour.  Lawyers may bill in various time increments.  Billing practices are not universal. That is, practices vary as to what items are billed. Some lawyers bill for reviewing a file every month. Some bill for attempted phone calls. Then many don’t bill for those types of items. Almost all lawyers bill for drafting documents, including letters  and emails. They bill for time spent on the telephone and for time spent in consultations. Of course, they bill for time spent in attending court proceedings or depositions. Just to name a few commonly billed items. Some don’t bill travel time separately, but include it in their time for the task overall. Some lawyers charge mileage on top of travel time.

I do not charge for periodically reviewing a client’s files. If, however, a client hires me, after the case has been underway with another lawyer, then I do charge for the time to initially review the client file. I charge travel time, but not mileage. Most certainly, I charge for telephone calls, as well as e-mails. I charge for drafting documents, preparing for proceedings and attending proceedings. Also, I do charge for reviewing incoming material on a case, unless it is a brief blurb. This illustrates just a few, of many, common items of billing.

Let us not overlook how expenses are handled in an hourly fee agreement. Many lawyers charge, in addition to their hourly rate, for items such as:  copying, faxes, toll calls, postage, and parking. I do charge for some, but not all of these items. I do charge for expenses for which I must pay to a third party for a client’s direct benefit. Such as: court filing fees, process server fees, transcript fees, expert’s fees, investigator’s fees or outside copy fees  Virtually all lawyers charge for such items in addition to their hourly rate.

Then there’s the practice of charging for non-lawyer time or paralegal time. Many firms routinely charge for such,  but at a rate less than the attorney’s rate, which is the practice at my firm.

My general rate, by the way, is $425 per hour depending on the nature of the case. In essence, my fees are less than most lawyers with my experience in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Now, before you whip out the calculator and enter: “425 x 40 x 52” don’t forget the overhead, as well as the amount of non-billable hours on items such as administrative tasks and continuing education. The law business is a business.

The billing items I mention are by no means exhaustive.  I offer them to offer a point. Do not merely call a law office and ask: “How much do you charge?” or “What is your hourly rate?”  Go meet with the lawyer and find out the lawyer’s billing practices. Believe me, it is quite possible that a lawyer with a lower hourly rate can have a final bill far greater than the higher priced lawyer. Then again, maybe not. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to predetermine such, except to get to know the lawyer and the lawyer’s billing practices.

Moreover, if you don’t get to know the lawyer, you may fall victim of the “Pen Syndrome.” You know, believing that if you pay $300.00 for a Mont Blanc pen, it just has to write better than a $5.00 pen.  At times, the only difference between a lawyer charging $475 per hour and one charging $425.00 per hour — is $50.00 per hour