10 Ways to Avoid Getting Ripped Off by Your Attorney
Aka: 10 Things to Know When Hiring an Attorney
People are often shocked at how much legal fees for their case adds up to. Many do not realize what legal services cost because the payments are made to their attorney over time, a few thousand dollars at a time. There needs to be more transparency on legal fees, so I have decided to write this lengthy article describing 10 ways to avoid getting ripped off by your attorney.
One tip on each page.
(1) Understand What a “Retainer” Is
When you hire an attorney that charges an hourly rate, the attorney will likely ask for a “retainer” up front. Many people mistakenly think this is the limit of the fees that the attorney will charge. This thinking, although very common, is incorrect.
Traditionally, a “retainer” was a periodic fee that is paid to a lawyer to make sure that lawyer will be available if you ever need legal services. While these types of retainers still exist, they are not used by most consumers of legal services. Instead, the evolved retainer has become the standard. Simply put, a retainer these days simply means a deposit.
If an attorney asks for a $10,000.00 retainer and charges you at $350 per hour, you have paid up front for less than 29 hours of the attorney’s time. Not only are you responsible for all of the attorney’s fees your lawyer charges, but you are also probably responsible for costs of suit. If your case is complex and goes to trial, you can expect that the attorney will potentially work hundreds of hours on your case, and if you need expert witnesses, you can expect at least another $20,000.00 on expert witness fees. Even if the attorney is able to finish your case in just 50 hours of work, with no expert witnesses and only one deposition, his bill will likely be at least $20,000.00. This means that, even after paying a $10,000.00 retainer, you are on the hook for another $10,000.00. After paying a large retainer, many clients are surprised to receive a bill that is often much larger than the initial retainer.
Litigation is costly. Attorney’s fees add up and costs of suit add up over time. Another lawyer I work with on occasion recently told me that his firm tells clients it costs approximately $200,000.00 per year to have a suit progressing on the docket. Although this seems a little high to me, it gives you an idea about just how costly litigation can be.
Because retainers have nothing to do with the true cost of your legal issue, do not base your decision on the price of the retainer. If the retainer is high, and the work ends up being very simple, your attorney is likely obligated to refund to you any amount of the retainer that is not used. When you are hiring an attorney and making a decision as to which attorney to go with, remember that a low retainer is not indicative of low legal fees. Instead, base your comparison on other measurable data: fee caps, flat fees, ballpark estimates, or hourly rates.