In this article, we’d like to highlight some of the best practices in managing one’s own legal fees in order to minimize your bill as much as possible. Along the way, we will answer many questions you may have and maybe have not thought of yet. We hope you find some good tips here, and if you choose Tripcony May to represent your case, we look forward to working with you.
Our Goal: To Keep Your Fees Down
We certainly understand that no one likes paying legal fees. You come to see us because you have a problem that needs to be solved. We are here to help solve your problem. To provide the best service we can, we must balance working on your case to achieve your goals with trying to keep your costs as low as possible.
For a law office, fees are what pays the rent, and our method of charging is in billable hours. We aim to try to keep your fees as low as possible and at the same time have enough to keep the office running.
To have a better idea as to how to control your legal fees, you need to know how we charge for our time.
Billing by the Hour and How it Works
When you get your bill, you will see a lot of fractional numbers and may wonder what do numbers such as .2, .5 and .8 mean? Time is broken down into “tenths of an hour”. The easiest way to look at this is that we bill a new range every six minutes and round up to the next tenth of an hour starting at minute 7. For example, if a billable rate is $300 per hour and we speak to you on the phone for five minutes, your bill will reflect .1 hours. If that same call runs over to seven or eight minutes, the bill will reflect .2 hours and the cost doubles over that five minute call. Where 27 minutes will reflect .5 hours, 31 minutes will show as .6. You are probably getting the picture. As you can see, shaving off a few minutes here and there can have a big impact on your bill.
The table below will show you how this works in a billable rate of $300 per hour scenario.*
|Percentage of one hour,|
as shown on bill
|Cost at $300|
We like our clients, like speaking to them and truly want to help them, and we understand their desire to keep costs down. Although we very much enjoy getting to know our clients, and we are happy discussing the weather, sports, job, family or children events, activities, or whatever, at the same time, we know your goal is to keep your legal expenses as low as possible. It is natural to drift off topic every once in a while, but be mindful of the time and your goals for that communication. There are times when self-restraint is the order of the day, where you have to pull back things you may want to share in order to keep the bill as low as possible. Our tip is to stay focused and stay on topic to help reduce legal fees. In billable hours, every minute counts!
Below are more ideas on how to keep costs down.
Phone, Email and Leaving Messages
The best way to save money on your legal fees is to reduce your attorney’s service time, and a big part of that is communications time between you and your attorney. Although attorneys must earn money, there are still some tried and true ways to minimize your legal bill.
- Choose the method of communication with a thought toward getting the information across in the most expedient way. Use email instead of the phone or in-person meetings when possible if you need answers to simple or logistical questions or are sharing documents or printed material. Email can be quicker than phone conversations and in-person meetings to get answers to simple questions and locations of events, etc. If the answer to the question will be more complicated or if you have multiple questions, you may want to schedule a short call or in-person meeting to keep costs down. Going back and forth over email and typing all correspondence can take longer than going down a list of questions on a short call. Since all communications time is billed for, any reduced communications time will directly reduce your bill. Always aim for the most expedient way to communicate to reduce the bill. Also, keep in mind that your attorney is likely receiving a high volume of emails every day from other clients as well as from opposing lawyers and may not be able to respond to you immediately. Email provides a good record and allows you to keep track of your lawyer’s advice for ongoing reference.
- Managing Email Communications. Keep your email communications as short and clear as possible. Use numbered or bulleted lists to aid in speed of reading. The less time spent reading, the less the bill will be. If you have questions and do not need immediate answers, consider making a list of questions and compiling them together into one email instead of sending multiple emails. That will help cut down on communications time and effectively save on billing.
- Communicate with legal assistants and paralegals. If your questions are non-legal in nature, our legal assistants and paralegals may be able to answer your questions, and their time will be more cost-effective for you.
- Always tell the TRUTH. This is a big time saver, but it is definitely not always easy. Tell your lawyer the absolute truth right from the beginning to save time, even if it is not easy. This will help your attorney work with you to formulate realistic goals and expectations as early as possible. You don’t want to add billable time having your attorneys spending time discovering what you could have told them at the beginning and you do not want the case to drag on unnecessarily; so be honest and upfront right from the start. In terms of billing, you will be glad you did.
- Prepare in advance. Prepare for all meetings and phone calls with your lawyer. Make note of questions you would like to ask. Identify which questions are of a specific legal nature and which may be of a general legal nature. For those of a general legal nature, you may be able to save yourself some billable time with some Internet searches. If your questions are not of a legal nature, you can contact the legal clerk. Being as informed as possible can save you a lot of money in legal fees.
- Take notes in your meetings and calls. Email provides a good written record of all correspondence, but when you are meeting in person or on the phone, you may want to consider taking notes. You don’t want to have to ask your lawyer the same question twice when you can avoid it. It all adds up.
- Talk with your lawyer’s law clerk when possible. Although a law clerk can not give legal advice, she can provide the answer to many procedural and logistical questions, and her billing rate is much lower. For example, the clerk can inform you if your ex-spouse has served their reply to your application or provide clarification on meeting times or court times and can answer general court questions, but can not provide legal advice. Any logistical or procedural related questions should be run by your attorney’s legal clerk first in order to save on the higher billable rates.
- Respond to requests in a timely manner. You will always be well served by responding to your lawyer’s requests in a timely manner. They have deadlines they must meet and also need to be responsive to opposing counsel’s requests. You do not want to pay your attorney extra to keep following up with you for needed responses or for unnecessary appeals and motions.
Handling Written Material
- Email over Fax – Sending documents via email rather than fax will save time and reduce your costs.
- Send to the Legal Clerk over the attorney if possible (soft copies such as PDFs via email) – This will minimize costs on paper or document handling by the attorney and will be at the lower legal clerk rate.
- Use file sharing services such as Google Docs or Dropbox to share documents if your lawyer and legal clerk use such systems. This can be a real time saver as you can send direct links to files that can then be shared, printed, etc.
- Get Organized – The more time an attorney spends preparing for a case, the more you are going to be charged, so the more organized you are with communications and your written documents, the better for all, as many documents will be needed to be reviewed during litigation – the faster and easier they are found, the better!
- Keep documents neatly organized in folders
- Compile as many as you can yourself to save time on attorney or legal clerk having to spend time organizing and compiling. Anything you can do yourself – do it! That will save time and money on billing.
- Organize court documents in chronological order when giving documents to your lawyer or legal clerk (or transferring a file from another attorney) and electronic documents such as PDFs are preferred over hard copies.
- Make a list of all court documents in chronological order and send an electronic version of that list – another great time saver!
- Financial Statements – Provide Two Copies. Your attorney may need to prepare a financial statement, and in order to do this, they will need documentation on all of your bank accounts, investment accounts, mortgages, line of credit accounts, paystubs and your income tax returns to substantiate all the figures reported in the financial statement. Most likely, they will need to provide a copy of the statement and all supporting documents to the opposing attorney. You can reduce processing costs by providing two copies of all documentation.
Ask for an estimate of disbursements in advance. You don’t have to ask about every postage stamp used, but your lawyer can tell you about messenger services (whose fees can run about $50) or stenographers (depositions or trial transcripts can costs hundreds or thousands of dollars). Ask your attorney to use faxes, delivery services, and express or overnight mail only when absolutely necessary.
Choose an experienced family law lawyer. Picking a lawyer who practices exclusively in family law will have plenty of experience in cases similar to your case and this should keep your costs down.
You come to us when you have a problem you are unable to solve on your own. We understand and respect that. As with any purchase, you want to get a fair value for what you pay. Although we can never guarantee a “win” or a certain result due to numerous factors outside of our control, you have our promise that we will work hard for you and we will do our absolute best for you.
It is ok and even expected for you to focus on fees and to ask questions. We don’t mind answering questions! We try our best to provide as much detail in our billing, but if you have questions, please let us know. If you see a mistake or do not understand a charge, give us a call, and of course, we do not charge you for speaking about your bill.
We want to help you the best way we can and in the most efficient manner possible. Following these tips helps everyone: you get our best work and we can help you without having to do unnecessary work.
*All rates used here are for example purposes only and do not constitute a quote.
Tripcony May provides services in divorce, contract, prenuptial agreements, child custody, visitation, grandparent rights, and other family law matters throughout the State of Arkansas. Please contact their office for a free consultation at (501) 296-9999, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You may also view www.tripconylawfirm.com for additional information.