Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How much do you charge?

Perhaps the most common question I'm asked is, "How much do you charge?". This seems like it is a very simple question and one that can be answered directly. If I call up my local fast food establishment and ask how much is a hamburger they should be able to provide a direct answer. If they didn't I would be suspicious. If I am preparing a person to testify in court I would always warn them to answer a direct question with a direct answer or it sounds like the person is hiding something. Yet, in the case of attorney's fees there are good reasons you wont be given a direct answer, as to price, over the telephone.
An attorney should be able to provide his or her hourly rate in advance. Ordinarily, the retainer in each case is based on what issues that individual case will involve. Thus, more information is needed to quote a rate of retainer. It is my policy not to charge for the initial consultation. This initial meeting will allow me to provide and obtain information needed to quote a retainer amount. I will explain in detail what and how I charge for my services. I always attempt to make an appointment for potential clients to come and see me within a couple days. This is true even if the time has to be outside of working hours.

Some factors that must be considered in hiring an attorney :

1. Do you like the attorney and feel comfortable with him or her. You will have to work closely together and share personal information. If you are not comfortable with the attorney you shouldn't hire that person. This is true even if their retainer is the lowest.

2. Does your attorney feel feel comfortable with you. I have been an assistant public defender and have worked for the Cook County Public Guardian's Office. In those jobs I had to take whatever case was assigned to me. I work for myself now. If I don't think I can help you or simply don't feel we can work together I wont take your money or the case.

3. Cases can involve more then attorney's fees. In a divorce there are filing fee's, the cost of service, costs for depositions, costs of mediation and costs to pay for the Guardian ad Litem not to mention the costs for expert testimony. I have had divorce cases where the fee for a home and background investigation was greater then the attorney's fees for the entire case. It is up to the client what they want to spend for experts and discovery.

4. Retainers and hourly rates don't tell the whole story. If someone bills you each time they think of your case you may end up with a higher bill then you would with a lawyer who charges a lower hourly rate. Also, A lawyer with greater experience and thus may charge a higher hourly rate may take less time to do the same thing because they don't need to research as much.

5. Who are you getting. If I hire a lawyer who will do the work? It is reasonable to ask a lawyer, "Who will do the work on my case?". Will the work be done by a paralegal, another lawyer in the firm or the lawyer you hired. This is a very common problem. You may hear great things about a lawyer but if someone else in the law firm does the work then it does not matter.

6. Criminal cases my be different. I usually do not charge by the hour in criminal cases but instead charge a flat rate. It may be divided in two parts. One fee up front and another if the case goes to a jury trial. I often hear someone complain that they want to hire a "real attorney" because a public defender was appointed to their case. A public defender is a "real attorney" and may indeed do a very good job on your case. Generally, the problem with a public defender is that person may have so many cases that it's not be possible to devote as much time to your case as you may want. Thus, if you hire an attorney in private practice you need to make sure that lawyer will devote the time needed to your case. The cheapest attorney my not be the best. After all if their rates are low due to the volume of cases they take on then they also may not have the time to devote to your case.

The second most common question I'm asked that relates to the first is, "Have you handled a case like mine before?". I have been an practicing law since 1992. Most of my case work involves family law and criminal law. So it is rare to run into an issue I have never seen or considered before. Yet, each case is also different. Your family and thus your situation is unique. What is unique to your situation is what the court needs to consider in making an informed decision.

My rates are low given my level of experience. The reason why is that I try and keep my expenses down where possible. Yet, price should not be the major factor in hiring a lawyer. I would not go to the hospital and ask for the cheapest brain surgeon. I would meet the individuals involved and pick the best person for my problem. Don't ignore the price but don't forget what is most important. Your freedom and your children are priceless.

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