Attorney Costs — Reviewing Your Own Lawyer’s Bill

attorney costsCosts are the expenses your attorney incurs which are directly attributable to your specific case. Almost all personal injury attorney fee contracts require that these costs be reimbursed from your share of the recovery, i.e., the money left over after your attorney’s fees are deducted. Therefore, every dollar that you can save on costs is a dollar that goes in your pocket. Most attorneys are diligent at maintaining a running list of your costs (though some costs won’t appear until your attorney receives and pays certain bills, so there will always be lag on some items). The two times you absolutely need to review the costs in your case are: (1) right before you agree to a settlement and (2) after you receive the settlement check and your attorney provides you the final accounting in your case. The pre-settlement review will help you avoid a rude surprise after it’s too late to stop the settlement, and the post-settlement review is to verify that the costs haven’t changed significantly from earlier.

The vast majority of your costs will be items for which your attorney paid directly out-of-pocket, and will be supported by invoices and canceled checks. The rest will usually be “in-house” expenses which your attorney tracked throughout the case, such as postage, long distance phone calls and photocopies. Unlike repair shops, which almost always charge you more for “parts” than their actual cost, lawyers are not permitted to do this with their costs. If the lawyer paid $150.34 for a deposition transcript, that is the most he can charge you. It is incredibly difficult to fake the first type of cost (due to the availability of invoices), and for the most part, the second type are so insignificant as to not warrant the risk your lawyer would take by inflating them. Nevertheless, you should always review an itemization of your costs to make sure that you are not being overcharged (or that someone else’s costs weren’t accidentally put on your bill).

Attorney Costs — Things That Should be Supported by an Invoice, Receipt and/or Canceled Check

Not everything that comes with a receipt is properly chargeable to the client as a cost. Here are the most common items you can expect to see which are properly charged to you:

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  • Medical records – Don’t be surprised by how expensive medical records (including billing records) are. For example, in my home state of Florida, most medical providers charge $1.00/page for the first 25 pages, and $.25/page for every page after that, per request. So, a 100-page medical record request will cost $43.75 (a lot more than Kinko’s charges for copies). Blame your medical provider for this one. It’s not your lawyer’s fault. Your lawyer should have proof of billing and payment for these.
  • Outsourced photocopies – When possible (given time constraints), your lawyer should handle large photocopy jobs (say, more than 50 pages at a time) by sending them out to a service to be copied. These services should be cheaper than how much your lawyer charges for in-house copies, though they may not be the cheapest copies in town. There are some copy businesses that cater to lawyers which offer services such as guaranteed confidentiality and pickup/delivery that other, cheaper, copy places do not. If the outsourced copies seem to cost almost as much as your lawyer’s “in-house” copies, you should probably ask your lawyer if he is an owner of the copy business — I know some lawyers who are.
  • Court filing fees – Filing fees vary from state to state, but don’t be surprised if it cost around $400-500.00 to file your lawsuit.
  • Process server fees – Your lawyer must use a process server to serve the initial complaint in your lawsuit, as well as subpoenas for document requests, depositions, and to compel witnesses to appear at trial. These will usually cost between $20-40 each, but will vary depending on where you live.
  • Private investigator fees – If a party or witness is difficult to find, or is trying to avoid being served with a complaint or subpoena, your lawyer may have to hire a private investigator to track the person down and serve him or her. This will obviously cost more than a process server, and will depend on the difficulty of the job. Your lawyer may also hire an investigator to take recorded statements from witnesses, which isn’t unusual in cases involving a large number of witnesses or witnesses who may be far away.
  • Deposition transcripts – If numerous depositions were taken in your case, don’t be surprised if you see large variances among the costs of the deposition transcripts. Depositions which your own lawyer ordered typically cost around $3.00/page to transcribe (again, this varies by location). Deposition “copies” (every copy after the original transcript) cost a fraction of that. Usually, the lawyer who sets the deposition pays the cost for the original and opposing counsel pays the “copy” rate. So, if your lawyer paid for two 100-page depositions, and paid $300.00 for one and $75.00 for the other, it’s because he ordered the original of the first one and opposing counsel ordered the original of the second. If any depositions were videotaped, the cost of the video is in addition to the cost of the transcript.
  • Expert witness fees – Expert witnesses can be extremely expensive. Doctors can range from $300-600+ per hour, depending on their specialty and location, and they frequently charge a premium over their usual rate for depositions and trial appearances. They charge for any reports they write on your behalf, such as MMI reports which can easily cost $1,000.00 each, and they charge you every time your lawyer talks to them. If you think you are getting gouged on this expense, take it up with your doctors.
  • Travel – If your lawyer needs to fly somewhere for a deposition, you’re going to get charged for his air fare. Make sure he isn’t charging you for first class travel (assuming you didn’t agree to that up front — better check your fee contract!). You’ll also be charged for rental car or taxi fees and hotel accommodations, if they were needed. Again, let reason be your guide in judging the quality of car and hotel your lawyer chose.
  • Mediation – Depending on the mediator and your location, this usually costs between $150-250.00/hour per party. If the defendant agreed to pay mediation costs as part of your settlement, make sure your lawyer takes this cost off of your bill.
  • Trial exhibits – If your case went to trial (or got close enough that exhibits needed to be prepared), your lawyer may have incurred the cost of blowing up certain documents and/or photographs to use in front of the jury. This may include the hiring a graphic artist to make these exhibits more useful, or to turn them into a Power-Point presentation. If the graphic artist seems way too expensive, you may want to ask if he or she is related to your lawyer (some lawyers hire their spouses or adult children to do these).

The following are items which should not be charged to you, even if your lawyer does have a receipt:

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  • Outsourced legal research – There are legal research businesses which charge lawyers to research an issue and provide them with a memorandum summarizing the relevant cases. Some also draft motions and other court documents for your lawyer. You should not pay for these services. If your lawyer wants to outsource his research and writing jobs, he should eat that cost. You pay him his attorney fee to do this work. If he didn’t feel qualified enough to do his own research and writing, he shouldn’t have taken your case. If he was just too busy (or lazy) to do the work himself, it’s not your fault and you don’t have to pay for it. If your lawyer wants to fight you over this type of expense, take it to the state bar.
  • Meals – Your lawyer shouldn’t charge you for meals, even if it was a “working lunch” with an expert. He can take his tax deduction for “working meals,” but he shouldn’t expect his clients to pay for them. However, I will make an exception to this rule for “out of town” meals, if your lawyer had to stay somewhere overnight for your case. He doesn’t have access to his kitchen, so the cost of a reasonable restaurant meal (but not any booze) is a fair cost, in my opinion.

Attorney Costs — Things That May Not Supported by an Invoice, Receipt and/or Canceled Check

Some things itemized on your attorney cost listing don’t come with a receipt. These are almost entirely in-house expenses that most lawyers traditionally charge their clients. Expect your post-settlement costs for these items to exceed the pre-settlement itemization you reviewed, because these items continue to accumulate while finalizing the settlement, and will often only be calculated once per month. Luckily, these tend not to be “big ticket” items, so the room for your attorney to inflate these costs is limited (and not worth the risk). Your lawyer should charge you for:

  • In-house photocopies – Your lawyer’s office isn’t Kinko’s. While he may have a nice copy machine and appear to make a ton of copies, he doesn’t do the volume of business to allow him to charge Kinko’s-like rates for photocopies. Don’t be surprised if your lawyer charges $.25/page for in-house photocopies. I have no doubt that lawyers actually make money on their copies by charging this much, and they probably should charge less (I do). However, there are enough lawyers charging this rate that I doubt any state bar would consider it excessive. It may be worth your time to see if you can knock a few cents off per copy, if your lawyer had a lot of in-house copies done for your case. Then again, it may not. As for tracking the number of copies done in your cases, many, if not most, law firms have devices attached to their copy machines which require a case code to be entered before copies are made. These are usually printed out and assigned to each case’s costs once per month. So, it’s not just “guesstimation” in most cases.
  • Postage – Yes, your lawyer will charge you for stamps, or more likely, the postage spit out by his postage meter. Most law offices just have a typed list of cases next to the stamp machines where the paralegals manually record the postage used in each case as letters get stamped. In my own experience, I’ve seen more errors in postage not being billed to a client (due to someone forgetting to write it down) than postage being overbilled to a client. There may be some FedEx or UPS charges as well, for sensitive documents which needed to be tracked or large volume shipments (such as when you need to ship a large number of medical records to an expert).
  • Long distance phone calls – Most lawyers will charge you their actual cost for long distance phone calls. It’s becoming more and more common these days for insurance companies to have defense firms act as “regional counsel” for a large area of a state, so opposing counsel may not be a local phone call away. If your lawyer charges for long distance, he should have a phone system which requires the entry of a case code prior to making a long distance phone call, so that each monthly phone bill will list which charges should be assigned to your case. Obviously, if your lawyer uses a VOIP system which allows him to make free long distance calls, he cannot ethically charge you for them.
  • Vehicular travel – Your lawyer should not charge you travel expenses for local automobile travel, such as driving to the courthouse or to meet a local expert. However, if he must travel a long distance, say more than 50 miles, he may charge you the mileage for that trip. This is usually billed at the business mileage rate set by the IRS, which is currently $.55 per mile.

The following “non-receipt expenses” should not be billed to you as costs:

  • Faxes – While it is reasonable for your lawyer to charge you any long distance telephone charges associated with a fax, it is not reasonable to charge you a per page cost for incoming or outgoing faxes.
  • Online legal research – Your lawyer should not bill you all or part of the cost of his monthly Westlaw or Lexis subscription. That is just part of his overhead. The only exception I could envision to this rule would be if your lawyer needed to access a case or law journal article which was not part of his standard plan, and for which he was charged a separate fee. This should be extremely rare, as most legal issues can be researched using only your state’s caselaw and statutes, which should be part of his standard plan.

Attorney Costs — Can My Lawyer Charge Me Interest on Costs?

Many lawyers do charge interest on your costs. They view their up-front payment of your expenses, which may not be reimbursed until years later, as being akin to a loan. Don’t be surprised if your lawyer charges you 1% or 1.5% per month (12-18% annually) interest on your costs. Check your fee contract to see if your lawyer included an “interest on costs” provision. If he didn’t, he shouldn’t charge it.

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Attorney Costs — Final Thoughts

Most lawyers make an effort to keep costs in your case down, as it doesn’t benefit them to run costs up — because most costs are simply reimbursement of money your lawyer already spent and involve no profit. In fact, lawyers know that excessive costs can make cases, especially smaller ones, nearly impossible to settle, because the client won’t take a settlement where he winds up getting nothing. I, like most lawyers, hate the fact that depositions and expert witnesses cost so damn much. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, as they are necessary to win most cases.

Remember that your lawyer will eat all of these costs (under most fee contracts) should you lose your case. If you lose at trial, not only does your lawyer not make any money on your case (in the form of attorney fees) but he actually loses money due to the expense of your costs. Running up costs unnecessarily is rarely a smart move.

If you see something on your attorney cost itemization that concerns you, don’t automatically assume the worst and take an accusatory tone with your lawyer. Be sure of your position before you accuse your lawyer of cost inflation, which is tantamount to accusing him of stealing. There’s nothing wrong with you wanting to verify certain large costs against your attorney’s invoices, but when you start challenging the number of photocopies or the amount of postage used, decide whether it is worth fighting over first. If your lawyer made thousands of dollars in fees, do you think he would risk his license by overcharging you $100.00 in costs? If you are diligent, and ask to see your current costs prior to agreeing to a settlement, you should be able to compensate for any higher-than-expected costs by demanding a higher settlement, or asking your lawyer to knock something off of his fee in order to get you to settle.

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37 Responses to Attorney Costs — Reviewing Your Own Lawyer’s Bill

  1. JA says:

    What can you do if your lawyer did not answer the discovery

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I’m not clear about what you’re asking. Are you saying your lawyer failed to respond to the defendant’s discovery and your case was negatively affected by it?

      • JA says:

        Yes, that’s right. Before the trial date, he talked us into signing a settlement for a small amount, instead of letting us go to trial, you said it correctly elsewhere in reference to ducking out at the last minute very unprepared. He never answered the defendants questions, there was an extended discovery period so he had plenty of time. We are thinking about filing a complaint.

        • fl_litig8r says:

          Unless his failure to answer the discovery resulted in a severe sanction, such as a witness or key evidence being excluded from trial, I doubt that the bar is going to see it as a big deal. Lawyers are late answering discovery all the time. Normally all that happens is that the court orders them to answer by a certain date. Sometimes it will award the other side attorney’s fees for the time they spent having to file a motion to compel. In extreme situations, it will exclude evidence or strike pleadings. If your lawyer’s failure to answer the discovery in a timely manner didn’t result in sanctions, don’t expect anyone to bat an eye at it.

          The fact that you agreed to settle the case will also work against the lawyer being disciplined, unless you absolutely had to settle due to the lawyer’s gross unpreparedness (or discovery sanctions). Good luck proving that.

  2. Vicky says:

    Hi! On the list of my attorney’s costs is a fee for a “medical parallegal”. Can you please tell me where that falls on the I should pay it or not pay it scale? Thanks for any info!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      A medical paralegal is usually a paralegal with a nursing or other medical background who does medical research and writes reports for a lawyer about medical issues in a case which he needs help understanding. Often they will be used in med mal cases or cases involving a type of injury that lawyers don’t run into on a regular basis. Many of these paralegals are independent contractors who provide their services to law firms on an hourly basis.

      If the medical paralegal used in your case was not an employee of the firm (in which case you should not pay for her services), then you should probably pay for her services. Your lawyer paid up front and out of pocket for her research, and likely wouldn’t have unless your case involved an atypical injury that personal injury lawyers don’t see all the time. I would really only question a payment to a medical paralegal if she was related to the lawyer (wife/daughter, in which case he might use her when not needed just to give her some business) or if the medical paralegal works for a business which the lawyer himself owns. Some lawyers own their own legal copying and exhibit-preparing companies — some may own their own “medical paralegal” businesses.

      As to see the billing info from the medical paralegal. If she and her business appear unrelated to your lawyer, odds are that it is a legitimate bill which you should pay.

  3. Val says:

    Hi. Love your website; big help! My lawyer is telling me to pay my physical therapist for a report she submitted him. I am of course willing to pay this as it would be reimbursed to the lawyer eventually anyway win or lose, however, is there any problem with me paying the PT in that it looks like, well, I paid for the report versus the lawyer?

    Also, a bill I got for costs lists “fax charges”, which your article says isn’t reasonable to charge the client (except if there are long distance charges). Why not? What makes charging for faxes so different from charging for photocopies? Thanks!!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I don’t know that it would make too much difference to a jury if you pay directly for the report or if your lawyer does. If it’s really a concern, it shouldn’t be a problem for you to write a check to your lawyer and have him write a check to the doctor for the same amount (after yours clears, of course).

      As to the fax issue, if your lawyer is only charging the rough equivalent of a “copy charge” for incoming faxes related to your case, I suppose that would be o.k. He shouldn’t charge anything for non-long-distance outgoing faxes, as these don’t cost him anything. Logistically, I’m wondering how your lawyer’s office tracks incoming faxes, though. Do they manually count each incoming page and assign it to each client? With photocopies, most lawyers have an electronic keypad that they enter the client code in before making copies, making tracking of copies automatic. They may even be able to track outgoing faxes this way, as well (though again, they shouldn’t be charging for these unless they are long distance). There is no way to automatically assign incoming faxes to each client, however, which is why most lawyers don’t bother to charge clients for these. The time it takes to manually assign each fax to each client outweighs the cost recovered in doing so.

      Also, I just think that charging for incoming faxes is kind of cheap. You lawyer doesn’t charge you for every page he prints on his printers, does he? I can justify charging for copies due to the volume of photocopies each case requires. Not charging for those can cost hundreds of dollars per case. Usually, a lawyer doesn’t get very many faxes in case (especially given the availability of e-mail now), so that minor expense can easily be eaten as a cost of doing business.

  4. Marsha says:

    My lawyer and I had a 15% fee agreement and I recently found that he has been receiving 20% from each WC check. I am a State employee and have been on Act 534 (Heart & Lung) enabling me to receive my entire pay since the time of work injury so I did not notice the money being taken from my WC check, that check gets paid back to the State. Two years ago he said the judge made a mistake on an order and gave 20% even though our fee agreement was 15%. I told him that needed to be fixed and he agreed. Well he never fixed it, figuring I would not find out. Now I am considering a settlement offer and I told him since there was an overpayment he must compensate for the overage and reduce the amount from my settlement lowering his take from 26,000 to 20,000. He got angry yelled at me, cursed at me and said NO! I was shocked and realized I can no longer trust him. He states what is the big deal it is a “win win” situation he received more money and I never saw it removed from my check :/ I told him he was overcompensated and it is dishonest. He is now saying that he believes that “we” signed a 20% fee agreement but he gave the only copy to a judge so it is not “handy”. He is lying I never signed another fee agreement. Since then he has done minimal work on the case. I received settlement papers in the mail two weeks ago and cannot get in touch with him to review them. My hearing is in one week. The papers are exempt of social security language, he is taking 100% of his fee from the lump sum and structured payments after putting in writing that he would take a percentage from each weekly payment, the papers state I cannot take medicare for 30 months so I am not sure about applying for SSDI, and the fee agreement stated that he would take 10% after the first 100,000 dollars well he is taking the full 15% from the entire settlement which is well over 100,000. He seems to say one thing and even if I have it in writing he changes it and seems to be getting away with it. This cannot be his first time doing this. He tells me if you dont like it get another lawyer. He knows that since I am at the point of settlement another lawyer won’t touch this case. This is the worst experience and is taking its toll on me at a time when I should be focusing on my State benefits and retirement. So now I would like to take my papers to another lawyer to review but not sure if I am able to do so. Tell me what you think about this. What should I look out for with this guy and can your settlement tips beat this guy at his own game? šŸ™‚

    • fl_litig8r says:

      First, unfortunately, my tip won’t help in your case. If you’re absolutely sure that you never signed a contract for a 20% fee, then it’s time to call the state bar. They don’t take too kindly to lawyers stealing from their clients.

  5. Don Bistrow says:

    A potential attorney said they receive 1/3 and no more for taking my personal injury case.

    Are “other” costs and expenses on top of that 1/3?

    We’re beginning an interview process of attorney’s and I want to know up front what to expect in costs. If they say 1/3, if they lose we don’t pay a cent, what exactly are they saying?

    For example, we win $100K, attorney’s receives $30K, then bill us for $50K in expenses, we receive $20K.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      The attorney’s expenses are typically in addition to attorney’s fees. When he says 1/3 and no more, he probably means that the percentage doesn’t go up after filing suit. In Florida, the standard fee arrangement is 1/3 if the case settles before filing suit, and 40% after filing suit (plus expenses on top of that). Expenses are extra because the biggest ones (expert witness fees, depositions, mediation) involve the attorney spending his own money to cover them in advance. He makes no money on these expenses, so it’s not like he’s getting paid extra — he’s only getting reimbursed what he paid out on most things, except in-house copies (arguably that’s reimbursement for the consumables and depreciation on the copy machine). The attorney fee is for his time only, not for money he spends specifically for your case.

      Your example is correct, though usually expenses are far less than that. The attorney has no incentive to run up expenses, because if you lose your case, or don’t recover enough to cover them, he eats that cost. This is what he means when he says that if you lose you don’t pay him anything. He can spend thousands in costs, and if he loses your case you don’t pay him anything. He loses all that money. Think of his expenses as a loan that doesn’t need to be repaid if you lose your case (because of this, some lawyers charge interest on expenses, so that would be something you should ask about).

      Before you agree to a settlement, you should always get an estimate of the current costs in the case and of any medical liens or health insurance liens. This way you can make an educated decision before it’s too late and you won’t be surprised with a lower net settlement than you were expecting. Clients asking for this information actually provides most lawyers with additional incentive to keeps expenses as low as they can — they don’t want to run them up so high that you’ll refuse to settle for a reasonable amount.

  6. Grace says:

    My concern is that my attorney never told me or billed me for a few years what my legal fees were and is double from what I assumed they were at. I verbally discussed with him earlier that year they were around $20,000 and his bill is at $45,000. The proceeds from the sale of the house are being held in escrow because its under yet another appeal filed at US Supreme Court PA my x’s attorney filed. X’s proceeds went directly to the IRS, my proceeds of what is left and feel I did most of the leg work for this case.

    [Information removed by admin to maintain user’s anonymity]

    I never received my personal & real property taken and no contempt actions were ever taken or followed through.

    I was granted sole access in a court order to get the property ready for sale as I deem appropriate and was arrested and charged with 6 felonies, found not guilty and had to hire civil attorney to defend me $3,700 plus another $500 to have a not guilty expunged and still waiting for it to be processed. No possible employer wants to hear that my criminal record was just a civil misunderstanding.

    Appreciated if you can review what I refer to as the Oz House that never seems to land and end!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I’m not really sure what you’re asking. Your underlying case is not in an area of law with which I am familiar, so I really can’t comment on the merits of the case or the quality of representation you received. With respect to your lawyer’s billing, was taken on an hourly or contingency basis? If hourly, were you not provided with regular billing statements (often monthly)? If you haven’t reviewed the billing statements, you really can’t make an argument about the billing being excessive. Do you suspect that the lawyer’s office was wrong about its original representation as to how much it generated in fees, or do you think they are overbilling?

      • Grace says:

        Since the beginning of my case, (hourly) I never received any regular billing statements from my attorney ever! First I was told once the judge made his decision and a court order was signed, the case would be over, nope! An appeal was filed at the appellate level, which again I was told it again, the case would be over, nope! Now, another appeal was filed with the US Supreme Court of PA. My attorney said in the beginning of August we would get a letter believing the appeal would be rejected and again, the case would be then closed. I am not an idiot and I also did my homework about how the legal system works. A reconsideration can be filed with the US Supreme Court of PA, then another appeal can be filed with the Federal Supreme Court in Washington. I called and inquired information from the Prothonotary and this is what I was told. Again, my attorney refuses to believe this could be a possibility and at this point I am fed-up! I never was told the entire time what legal fees were accrued. I would have hired a lawyer who worked in the county, which I now believe hurt my case and wasted my money and lots of time. I do not have a problem paying for legal fees, I do have a problem with the fact I had no idea what I thought I owed is now way off its doubled, and still not over.

        • fl_litig8r says:

          If you question the amount being charged by your lawyer, you should ask for his time records for your case. Most firms that bill hourly have special programs that this data is entered into, making creating a detailed report for a specific client rather simple. I’d be pretty wary if they balk at providing you with such a report, as they really should be recording the time spent on your case contemporaneously, and not just making numbers up at the end of the month or when a client asks for them. You could test the accuracy of their records (before you request them) by writing down the date, time and length of some of your phone calls with them. If their bills don’t match up with your records (assuming your lawyer bills for these items), you know their records are less than reliable.

          As to when the appeal will end, while motions for rehearing or rehearing en banc are always possible, they are relatively rare, as they are usually futile. Even more rare is the U.S. Supreme Court accepting a case via certiorary. So, while I can’t fault your lawyers for thinking that these events are very unlikely, you are correct that a determined opponent might not care about wasting his time pursuing them.

  7. ADK46 says:

    FL_litig8r your article as well as your responses to comment’s were very informative. One response you made really struck home. “Iā€™d be pretty wary if they balk at providing you with such a report, as they really should be recording the time spent on your case contemporaneously, and not just making numbers up at the end of the month or when a client asks for them.” I am having an issue with this in Upstate NY and would appreciate any input.
    I paid my attorney a $2500.00 retainer fee for a possible modification of my custodial arrangement in April of 2011. We agreed to an hourly rate of $175.00 hourly. I was looking for guidance with a petition but not sure if I would pursue it. I met with my lawyer a few times and she represented me in the petition that I ultimately withdrew because my child was safe. In April of 2012 the lawyer sent me an itemized statement that reflected I had $1520.00 of my retainer remaining on account. I was asked to forward a check in the amount of $980.00 to bring the balance back to $2500.00. I wrote a check to bring the account back to $2500.00 in June of 2012. I never met with the lawyer again after April 9th of 2012. I called their office on August 21st 2013 and requested the final statement and let her secretary know that I would no longer be be seeking a modification as things had worked out without needing legal services. I requested the 2500.00 balance of the retainer at that time. I did not hear from my lawyer again until the end of this April 2014. I was sent another itemized statement and a check for 1415.00 which, I have not cashed. I never met with her again after she requested the $980.00 to bring the account back to $2500.00 and both of the itemized statements reflect that the last time she did any work for me was April 9th of 2012 when we had a meeting. I can see an honest mistake if they simply forgot the check I wrote for $980.00. What really bothers me is the itemized statements having different ending balances. One reflecting $1520.00 and the other $1415.00. Even more bothersome is that the itemized statements don’t reflect most of the same charges and/or dates. The only charges that match are 4 meetings we had where the date, time spent and activity all match up. At first glance I just figured it was an error but I am disturbed by this and it looks at best to be horrible record keeping and unethical buisness praction but somewhat suspicious the more I review it. Any suggestions? We all work hard for our money and I feel taken as a fool and possibly taken advantage of. I don’t want this for others what should I do?
    1st itemized statement looks like this:

    03/28/11 .5. Review pleadings meeting with client
    03/31/11 1.1 Meeting with client
    04/05/11 .1 T/C from/to client
    04/06/11 .2 Discussion of case with *** Esq.
    04/06/11 .1 T/C with client
    04/06/11 .1 T/C with *** Esq.
    04/07/11 .3. Court-client withdrew petition
    04/20/11 1.4. Meeting with Client
    02/10/12 .7 Meeting with Client
    04/09/12 1.1 Meeting with Client
    TOTAL 5.6. @$175/hour- $980.00
    Retainer Paid- $2500.00
    Unused Retainer: $1520.00

    2nd and Final itemized bill looks like this:

    Time Expended
    03/31/2011 Meeting with a client. 1.1
    03/31/2011 Review OSC, attachments,
    37 pages, review Verified
    Answer, 9 pages, file preperation 0.6
    04/11/2011 Court appearance. 0.5
    04/20/2011 Meeting with client 1.2
    12/26/2011 Meeting with client 0.3
    02/10/2012 Meeting with client. 0.7
    04/09/2012 Meeting with client. 1.1
    04/09/2012 Review of six pages,
    single spaced notes 0.7

    Total Time 6.2 hours
    6.2 X $175.00= $1085.00
    Retainer Paid $2500.00
    Time. 1085.00
    Balance Due. $1415.00
    Thank you.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Obviously, the big thing is getting your lawyer on the same page as you with respect to the $980.00 check you sent him, which should be fairly easy to do via a canceled check.

      With respect to the discrepancies between the first and second bills, it does appear that some fudging and guesstimation is going on. One might be able to explain certain changes such as adding a few minor tasks that were performed but were mistakenly not accounted for at the time — I can see a lawyer going over his bill and saying “Huh, I forgot to bill for reading that pleading or writing that letter”, when clearly he had done those things. But in your case, it looks like times were both increased and lowered for the exact same task between the bills. That sounds like fudging and guessing, like there is no common recording of tasks and times from which these bills were generated. This shouldn’t happen (but I’m sure it does quite often, unfortunately).

      What you want to do about this is up to you. If the times he billed for meeting with you seem about right, and he actually did make a court appearance on 4/11/2011 (which didn’t appear on the first bill), then maybe you just let the .6 hour discrepancy slide (as .5 is explained by the previously unbilled court appearance). If you think he padded the times for client meetings, maybe you make some hay about it and get him to knock time off the bill.

      If you want to champion the cause of all his past, present and future clients, you could bring the billing discrepancy (and apparent trust account discrepancy, if he received and cashed your $980 check but didn’t put it in trust) to the state bar. While your matter is relatively small, clearly other clients’ may not be. If you like him and don’t want to get him in a world of trouble with the bar, you could just have a “come to Jesus” talk with him about his billing and accounting practices, letting him know that you could have gone to the bar with it and that he better get his act together before some less charitable client does.

  8. ADK46 says:

    I really appreciate and will follow your advice. I don’t want to get anyone in deep trouble so the “come to Jesus” talk sounds good. Thanks for responding so quickly.

  9. Barb says:

    What is an “exit package ” after settlement and the case has been closed? Are they optional or required?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      This is going to vary from state to state, based on each state bar’s ethics rules. What I believe you’re referring to is a statement of how the settlement money is being distributed (percentage to you, to your lawyer, you lawyer’s costs, medical liens, etc.), and supporting records. Some states specifically require it to be in writing. Others merely require that the client be informed of how settlement is being distributed, without specifying how.

      I believe that the best practice, regardless of ethics rules, is to have the client sign a written statement approving the specific distribution of the funds. Unfortunately, this isn’t required in all states.

  10. Mark says:

    My lawyer came to town for a deposition. On the way back his plane got delayed. He is now charging me another $1200 in travel fees and another $50 or so in expenses. Am I responsible for this amount ? it seems to me that’s the airlines fault. I am paying my fee’s up front by the way

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Well, it really depends on how reasonable those additional travel fees are and what your contract says. “It’s the airline’s fault” is not a good argument — your lawyer would have to pay those expenses out of pocket if you don’t pay them (most airline delays aren’t something passengers can sue over to get their money back), and his travel was on your behalf.

      To me, the issue is really about the reasonableness of the additional amount being charged, not whether you should have to pay for his additional expenses due to an airline delay (you should). He incurred additional expenses due to no fault of his own while working on your behalf. You agreed to pay his reasonable expenses. So, is the $1250 a reasonable amount? That depends on what your contract says about his expenses. Does it specifically agree to first class travel (if that’s what he used)? If it is silent on this issue, you’d be responsible for what an average person would consider reasonable under those circumstances.

  11. Mark says:

    He charged me 4 1/2hrs travel pay to get here. Then we got done early and he told me his flight was at 6pm but he was going to try and get an earlier flight. The bill says flight was cancelled at 8:30 and I was charged 8hrs travel pay that day and 3 1/2 the next. I don’t understand the 8hr’s the 1st day, maybe 2 1/2.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I see that I misunderstood your question. I thought you were referring to additional costs incurred due to the flight delay, but you were actually talking about fees — I didn’t know you were paying your attorney hourly, as opposed to a contingency fee. This is a pretty big gray area when it comes to fees. Most travel time is charged door-to-door, but what happens when someone’s travel is affected by outside circumstances? If he was stuck in the airport trying to arrange alternative travel for hours after his flight was canceled, should he charge for that? What about if he couldn’t get a flight that night and eventually had to secure a hotel room to spend another night before leaving the following day (which sounds like what happened here)?

      If it were me, I would think it fair to charge for the time reasonably spent at the airport waiting to see if he could get on a later flight. If he was on standby for a flight or two and didn’t wind up getting a seat, I don’t think it’s unfair for him to charge for that wasted time, or the additional time to leave the airport and get to his hotel room (at which point the clock stops). During that time, he was neither at home nor at a resting place in his destination (a hotel or the deposition site), so it’s technically time he spent traveling. While the delay was not your fault, it wasn’t his, either — it was, however, incurred on your behalf.

      While I wouldn’t think it unreasonable for you to ask for a break on the time he spent waiting at the airport, it would be unreasonable to ask him to eat that time entirely.

  12. Vicki says:

    I had two cases with the same attorney. The first is a slip and fall and the second was a car accident. The car accident settled and when it did the attorney took funds from the car accident that were left over, he said, to cover costs on the slip and fall. So I asked to see an itemized list of the costs to date (which I’ve still never received). He first tried to take $4,000.00, but a girl came in and told him that to date the costs were $3,600.00 so he agreed to lower it to $3,000.00. Then he wanted me to agree to a loan for an expert witness for $8,000.00, for a doctor to testify. He told me that he wanted me to have some “skin in the game” He wanted me to agree to this “loan” without even seeing the contract I would be agreeing to. I refused. I told him I would absolutely have to see the agreement in writing before I would agree to anything. He assured me that if we lost the case I wouldn’t owe anything, however once I saw the agreement, that wasn’t completely true. I would owe the fees and the interest, which also wasn’t anywhere near what he told me it would be. But I had a deposition coming up in a few weeks so I didn’t feel like I could just fire him. At the deposition they agreed to go to mediation. I now have mediation set up in a few weeks. I think this guy is selling me down the river. What could I possibly do at this late stage? I read in one of your posts that lawyers don’t like these “loans” because it causes them a lot of work, and here’s my guy trying to shove one down my throat. I don’t know what to make of all of this?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      I can see why you have cause for concern. First, I’m hoping that this lawyer got your approval to apply the settlement funds from the car accident case to the outstanding costs for the slip and fall. If he didn’t, and just told you that this was going to happen without you having any choice, that’s very likely an ethics violation. Second, while a lawyer asking a client to start contributing to costs isn’t unheard of, it usually occurs when the client is being unreasonable about settlement and the lawyer wants to apply pressure to the client by giving her something to lose if the case goes south (the “skin in the game” line is used for this reason). In your case, it sounds like you haven’t even entered serious settlement negotiations, so I don’t see why he would resort to such a tactic at this point.

      Third, asking for $8,000 to secure an expert witness seems way too high. Normally, even with expensive medical experts, you pay a certain amount up front to have them review the records and tell you their opinions — this is usually less than $3,000 — before you jump ahead to the point where you’re paying them to testify. Why he would want you to take out a lawsuit loan to make this exorbitant up-front payment is beyond me. As I said in my lawsuit loan article, most lawyers hate when their clients take out these loans, not only because it’s a headache for the lawyer to deal with the paperwork, but also because the client is rarely happy with the amount they owe when the case finally settles. Is this lawyer pushing a particular loan company? Is is a national company, or some local operation that he might have a stake in? This really doesn’t make any sense to me.

      For now, I would refuse to take out any loan or pay anything further in costs up front, especially the cost of hiring an expert. If you’re going to mediation in a few weeks, why run up your costs in advance when that may impair your ability to settle? You can always hire an expert after the mediation if you can’t come to an agreement (and you can continue to try to settle even if the mediation failed).

      There are a bunch of red flags that fly up from what your attorney is doing, but I really can’t throw him under the bus based on suspicion alone. To me, it sounds like he thinks your slip and fall isn’t worth much, and he’s trying to run up costs at your expense either to (a) profit from those costs and/or (b) put you at such financial risk that you feel compelled to settle for any amount that gets you out of the hole. I may be wrong (and I hope I am), but I don’t see the logic behind what he’s asking you to do.

      As I said, I’d just cut off the expenses until mediation if I were you. Definitely don’t take out a lawsuit loan. Check your own fee contract with the lawyer to see what it says about who will pay for costs. If it says that he pays for the costs and that if you don’t make a recovery, he doesn’t get reimbursed, I see no reason for you to pay any more costs in the case up front. If you’ve already kicked in $3,000, that’s plenty of skin in the game for most slip and falls.

      If you can settle at mediation, great. If you don’t, then it might be time to try to find a new lawyer — especially if he’s still trying to squeeze you for more huge expenses like the expert witness fees.

      • Vicki says:

        I believe that he’s going to try to nail me for exorbitant expenses after this case (even if we win) I’m very afraid of this attorney. My condition ended up requiring me to be on anti-seizure medication. This has been very difficult to adjust to, and during the adjustment period I had a very fuzzy and forgetful time. Twice he has yelled at me to the point I was in tears and shaking. The second time was when I was signing the settlement for the car accident and didn’t initially understand about the money being held out for the costs on the slip and fall accident. After two years of being out of work I was running short of funds and did need the money. He told me that after 20 years he has never gone after a client for costs even if he lost, but if he always makes sure to get his costs up front, I can now understand why. Is there anything that I can do if he does try to run up massive costs, lose the case, and then come after me for costs? We are about 10 days away from mediation? The doctors he initially sent me to were triple the cost of my own doctors, and they were terrible. I refused to continue to see them and went to my own doctors instead. He also almost made me lose my health insurance.

        • fl_litig8r says:

          I know you’re forgetful, but please don’t repeat the same information you’ve already posted verbatim when you really just need to add a sentence or two to the facts. I was about to erase your post as being an accidental duplicate of your prior post when I noticed you added something to it in the middle.

          The only way to avoid him running up more unneeded costs before mediation is to tell him specifically not to. Lawyers generally have free rein to incur costs as needed to litigate the case, mainly because they are paying these costs up front and their desire not to waste their own money (and the fact that they never profit — at least they shouldn’t — from costs) is enough of a check against any motivation to run up costs. If your fee contract makes costs contingent upon recovery (as many, if not most, do), then he wouldn’t be able to come after you for costs if he lost your case even if he wanted to. Look to your contract for the answer to that question.

          With only 10 days before mediation, there aren’t a whole lot of costs he can run up. The only one I’d really be concerned about would be the proposed $8,000 expert. I’d tell him directly not to retain that expert prior to mediation, because such a cost could before mediation could make the case impossible to settle.

  13. Vicki says:

    I believe that he’s going to try to nail me for exorbitant expenses after this case (even if we win) I’m very afraid of this attorney. My condition has required me to be on anti-seizure medication and this has been very difficult to adjust to. During this adjustment period I had a very fuzzy and forgetful time. Twice he has yelled at me to the point I was in tears. The second time was when I was signing the settlement for the car accident and didn’t understand about the money being held out for the costs on the slip and fall. Is there anything that I can do if he does try to do this? We are about 10 days away from mediation? The doctors he sent me to were triple the cost of my own doctors and they were terrible. I refused to continue to see them and went to my own doctors instead. He also almost made me lose my health insurance.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      It goes without saying that no one should be afraid of their own lawyer. I’ve known some lawyers who are notorious bullies, even with their own clients, and it’s really repulsive to see. The best advice I can give is that you should just get away from him immediately if he starts yelling at you. Just leave the room (or hang up if you’re on the phone) and don’t engage. You don’t need to take his abuse. The worst thing he can do to you is quit, which in your case would be a blessing.

      That being said, I’d try to ride it out through mediation, because in most cases a bad lawyer is better than no lawyer and I doubt that you’d be able to find someone else to take the case before mediation. Don’t give him any more money and don’t agree to assume any more expenses before then. If you have a strong friend or family member who can advocate for you, see if that person can attend the mediation as “moral support”. Really, they will be there to support you against your own lawyer — but you just tell him you need the moral support. Then, just hope that the case settles so you can get away from this lawyer as soon as possible. Get help from your friends or family if you have issues with the lawyer over the settlement money and costs. It’s usually a lot easier for people to be tough for someone else’s sake than their own, so don’t be ashamed to ask a friend to be the “bad guy” for you when dealing with your lawyer. Just bring that person when you meet with the lawyer to discuss the settlement division and let him or her ask the tough questions. This will also give you a witness should any shenanigans occur.

  14. Hayes says:

    Quick question. We have just settled a medical malpractice lawsuit against our treating physician for $475,000. I am curious as what you would speculate the costs could average. I have tried to get this from the attorney, but he says he will have it at the time the checks are cut. The case was settled before trial and we brought the bulk of the medical records to the attorneys as we obtained these from the doctor and hospital prior to seeking their help. I know there is a lot of missing information you probably would need, but I really just want to get a ballpark so I know what to expect.

    Thanks! Love the site!

    • fl_litig8r says:

      It’s really hard to even give a ballpark without knowing what happened during the litigation. I assume you had to hire an expert witness, so straight away that would likely cost a few thousand dollars. If he was deposed by your own attorney, you would need to pay for his time prepping for and attending the deposition. Some experts even charge flat rates for this, so it depends on whether such an arrangement was made. If he was deposed by the other side, they should have paid his fee for the time of the deposition, but you’d still need to pay for prep time. If you deposed their expert, you’d need to pay his fee for the time of the deposition. Add to this fairly high hourly rates for any treating doctors deposed (aside from the defendant) and it can quickly exceed $10,000, so I’d expect at least that from any med mal case that required a decent amount of litigation. Fairly routine person injury cases can have between $1,500 and $5,000 in costs, depending on what was done, and med mal cases tend to be far more expensive due to the need for experts and the extra time they have to devote to them.

      In short, you really just need to look at the actual costs claimed for each case to tell whether they are reasonable. There is no “normal” amount of costs, because cases have different levels of complication and some defendants fight harder and longer than others.

  15. mitchel [last name removed by admin] says:

    I am a sole practitioner without secretary or staff. I do my own typing except pleadings. For pleadings I use an independent contractor. I bill as part of my costs the secretarial that I pay for pleadings. It’s in my contract. Is that an appropriate cost to pass on to my clients?

    • fl_litig8r says:

      Ethically (and this will obvious depend on your state bar’s particular ethics opinions regarding billing for non-attorney personnel), I would think that you could do this with the appropriate disclosure beforehand. If it’s buried in the fee contract, I don’t know if that’s sufficient disclosure to satisfy your state bar.

      As to whether it’s appropriate in a more general sense, it’s definitely going against the grain of what most plaintiffs’ attorneys do. They don’t bill the client for secretarial or paralegal time when these people are actual employees. That’s just considered part of the overhead which is included in the attorney’s fees, and I’m sure that their expenses in maintaining a full-time staff exceed yours for the “per case” outside work, so they have the same justification for wanting clients to pick up that cost — but they just eat those costs as part of doing business. If you were an hourly biller, like an insurance defense attorney, it would be more normal to bill for paralegal hours, but even they don’t bill for secretarial work — again, that’s considered overhead and covered by their fees.

      I’d definitely check with your state bar’s ethics opinions on billing for nonlawyer time as a starting point in considering whether you should keep doing this. If you pass muster from an ethics standpoint, then do what you think is appropriate and screw what I think. I don’t know your financial situation, so I’m not really in a place to judge. I also don’t know if you charge the same fee as other lawyers who eat those costs as overhead. Personally, if I could afford to not pass this cost on to the client (outside of my fee), I wouldn’t do it. Aside from the fact that it’s not the norm, it just seems like something that would generate unneeded client anger at the end of the case (and a possible bar complaint, whether it’s ethical or not), especially if the disclosure about it at the outset of the representation isn’t as clear as it could be.

  16. Veronica says:

    Hello there! Everything you have stated here has been so helpful, however I do have a question pertaining to if my lawyer that is representing me on my accident settlement and is also representing me in a custody case, can legally in the settlement agreement make me pay him his attorneys fees for the custody case? We never agreed on this and the only thing that was agreed to be paid to him was the 1/3 of my settlement and of course doctors involved.

    • fl_litig8r says:

      While ethics rules vary from state to state, I’d have to say no. Your lawyer inserting language for his own benefit in the custody case into the settlement agreement for a separate matter sounds like a classic conflict of interest. I see no problem with him asking to be paid (whether it be fees already owed or a retainer) for the custody case now that he knows that you have money, but making this language part of the settlement agreement in the personal injury case seems unethical to me. I might have a different opinion if this was agreed upon at the outset of both cases, but the manner in which he’s trying to ensure payment for the custody case raises big red flags for me. Basically, he’s holding your settlement hostage unless you agree to pay him for an unrelated case, when this was not part of the representation agreement in either case. If that’s not a conflict of interest, I’m not sure what would be.

      I’d tell him to remove that language. If he balks, mention that it’s a conflict of interest for him to spring this language on you when you had never previously agreed to it. That should let him know that you’re thinking about an ethics complaint. If he still refuses, then you may want to mention a bar complaint specifically. You don’t want to jump to this if you still want him to represent you in the custody matter because he will almost certainly withdraw from your case if you threaten a bar complaint directly.

      As I said, if he wants a retainer for the custody case, I have no problem with him demanding one immediately after paying you your share of the settlement in the personal injury case. I have a big problem with him trying to make your settlement agreement contingent on paying him for the custody case, though. The two are unrelated matters, and threatening one case to ensure that he gets paid in another strikes me as unethical.

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