(4) If You Pay Hourly, Ask if the Attorney bills for Phone Calls or Emails with You
Many attorneys who are hired on an hourly basis do bill for phone calls and emails with you. If you consider it from the attorney’s perspective, you will see why many do. An attorney has only one commodity to sell in his business: his time. Like everyone, an attorney has a limited amount of time to sell. There are 2,000 working hours in a year for people who are not workaholics (50 weeks times 40 hours per week). If attorneys spend time on one case it means that they cannot devote it to another. Because of this, attorneys have to divide their time in a way that maximizes their efficiency and income. It is usually inefficient to work on more than one case at a time. If you call to ask the attorney a question, it will likely interrupt work on another case and take time away from billing that other client. This is bothersome to many attorneys, and so many attorneys decide to bill their clients for phone calls with the clients, and even a one-minute phone call can result in a charge for the minimum billing increment.
Of course, from your perspective, as the consumer of legal services, you want to know what is going on in the case. You are also curious to ask a question about a thought you had regarding the case. The attorney should be willing to take a one-minute phone call without charging you for it, you would think. If billing for phone calls was never discussed, you have a right to be upset when you are billed for an entire hour when you made four one-minute calls to your attorney on separate days.
It does not hurt to ask if the attorney will charge if you call and talk to a secretary. Most attorneys are much more forgiving of their secretary’s time than they are of their own time, so usually attorneys will not charge you to talk to their secretary. Because of this, if the discussion is not urgent, it is often better to talk to a secretary than it is to talk to the attorney directly.