What you need to know when hiring an attorney at an hourly billable rate
In today’s day and age clients must realize that law firms are a business, where the goal is to earn an income. The question is what kind of lawyer are you hiring?
- Someone who truly cares about you, your legal matter and is striving to serve you in the best manner possible;
- Someone who will give you an honest opinion on the likelihood of success and the cost-effective ways in which your legal matter may be handled; or,
- Someone who is merely evaluating your file to determine how much of an income can they make on your case and is doing more harm than good to your family and financial wealth.
At Biederstadt Law, you can expect that we will take the time to educate you on the legal process, to listen to your goals, and to craft a legal strategy that suits you.
If you are currently interviewing attorneys, at Biederstadt Law we strongly recommend that you:
- interview more than one (1) attorney, so that you can make an educated decision on who you truly want to hire. Hiring a lawyer and an advocate to represent your interests is a very important decision to make and it is not a decision you want to take lightly.
- You want to ensure that your attorney is experienced in the field of law that you are hiring them to represent your interests.
- You want to ensure that they are charging you a fair rate and that they are willing to take the time to educate you on the process, provide you with options and allow you to make the decisions that will impact your life through your legal matter.
As such, there are several questions that we tell all of our prospective clients to ask any attorney that they are interviewing:
- What is your experience in ______ field of law?
- When is the last time that you handled a _______ case?
- After explaining the facts of your case, ask your prospective attorney:
- How they would handle this situation (their legal strategy);
- If there are any alternative legal strategies that you should be aware of;
- The likelihood of success of your various legal options; and
- An educated guess on the total costs, or at minimum, a potential range of what the costs may be?
- What is the retainer amount and how the attorney expects that amount to be paid?
- What is the attorney’s hourly rate?
- What is the attorney’s minimum billing increment?
To further explain, when you are hiring a lawyer who will be charging you based upon an hourly rate, a family law attorney for example, most litigants place their decision to retain counsel on the amount of their retainer fee and they will select a lawyer who is charging a lower retainer fee because they believe they are getting a better deal.
Yet a retainer fee is, for all intensive purposes, a fictitious number and is meaningless.
Please understand that when you are hiring a lawyer on an hourly billing rate, you are most likely signing a “security retainer agreement.” Within Illinois, the laws concerning retainer agreements are governed by IL Supreme Court Rule 1.15. The plain meaning of this type of agreement is that you are starting a savings account with the lawyer’s office and that lawyer is merely holding your money, until such time as they earn those funds. Further, if the fees are not earned the lawyer would be obligated to return your money to you. As such, the important question to ask is what is your hourly billing rate, so that you are aware of how quickly that retainer agreement will be depleted and to ignore the amount quoted as a retainer.
Further, most litigants don’t understand the hourly billing system:
When you are billed by the hour, lawyers charge you for their time and they are required to ethically bill you for the work that they do. Yet, the retainer agreement is what defines the manner in which you are billed and by signing the agreement, you are entering into a contract and deeming their minimum billing increment to be acceptable.
For instance and to further explain, several law firms bill at a minimum billing increment of .25 for any action that they take. Meaning that if you have a three (3) minute phone call with that lawyer (.05 of an hour), they are billing you for fifteen minutes (.25 of an hour). If you should send that lawyer a two (2) line and very brief e-mail (.25 of an hour) and they respond in kind (.25 of an hour), you are then being billed thirty (30) minutes (.5 of an hour) for something that took the lawyer all of four (4) minutes to complete.
At Biederstadt Law we pride ourselves on conducting the practice of law in a professional, honest, ethical and trustworthy manner.
- We charge our clients a fair rate for the services we are providing and bill them accordingly for the time that any particular action took that attorney. There is no minimum billing increment and all work completed in association with your case will be billed in real time.
- We treat our clients as we would our own family members or friends and provide you with the respect and advice that you deserve, rather what may earn our office the most money in attorney’s fees.
We have long stood by the rule that if we treat people honestly, charge a fair rate and provide them with the level of service they deserve, that in the end we will reap the rewards ten (10) fold because our clients speak our praises for years to come and refer business back to our office.