By Raven Willis
There aren’t many experiences quite like opening a lawyer’s bill for $20,000 (or more) for the very first time. And to add insult to injury, that’s for only about 40 hours worth of work. Once you get past that initial sticker-shock, here are a few tips to help you as you review the bill and hopefully get it reduced a bit.
Tip #1: Check the Easy Stuff
And by easy stuff, I mean check the dates for services rendered to make sure they are correct. If the invoice states that they emailed you or called you on a particular day, check your records to make sure that is accurate. Yes, this is very simple and easy, but lawyers are human, and we do makes careless mistakes sometimes.
Also, check to make sure the rate (or rates, depending on your case) is the rate that you agreed to pay. Lawyers have lots of clients, and may decide to increase or lower their billing rates when they decide to take a case. The reason for this depends on lots of things like the complexity of the job, if you’re a repeat client, or if you roll up in their office looking broke, but they need the work so they decided to take a chance on you anyway. Because it’s within the realm of possibility for your rate to get mixed up in the shuffle, just do a quick look-see to make sure it’s accurate.
Tip #2: Sanity Check the Level of Attorney Used
It’s not uncommon for law firms to use several attorneys on any particular job. The rates for the attorneys vary depending on their level of experience. Partners can bill upwards of $700 an hour, while entry level associates straight out of law school may bill $250 an hour at the same firm. The more complex the issue, the more an experienced attorney is needed along with their higher rate. If your case is a complex malpractice suit against a big company needing complicated legal analysis and the like, you can expect to see lots of charges from the higher billed attorneys. But if your case is a simple LLC creation, you should definitely question any charges from a partner or senior level associate.
Another suggestion is that if you know beforehand that the work you need is pretty straightforward and simple, communicate up front that you would prefer the lowest billed attorneys to be used as much as possible. Firms will probably do their best to accommodate this request.
Tip #3: Dispute Charges for Rework
The work products that you receive from your lawyer should be professional and error free. Especially if you are being charged for a higher billed attorney to review the product before submission. You should never see charges from someone getting “up to speed” because lawyers are only supposed to bill for competently performed work. Carefully review the work product and if there are any mistakes, have them fix it. You should not be charged for this rework. So if they have a newbie working your deal, and the final product resembles something that more appropriately should have been written in crayons and had to be redone, get those hours removed.
Tip #4: Have Another Lawyer Review the Bill
I know this seems counterintuitive. I’m actually chuckling inside as I type this because if I wasn’t a lawyer, I would say I was full of crap to suggest hiring a second lawyer to keep the first one in check. But hear me out. You know the old adage, “It takes one to know one?” This is so true in our profession. We know all the little sneaky tricks of the trade and will be much better at calling B.S. on another lawyers invoice. Plus, there are a lot of reasonably priced attorneys that would probably do it for pretty cheap. HireAnEsquire.com is a website where you can find a lawyer by posting a job and naming the rate you want to pay. Also, LinkedIn is a great place to find legal help. Post the question in any of the legal group forums and watch all the attorneys dogpile on the prospect of new business. And no, I don’t get paid by mentioning either sites, although I certainly wouldn’t turn it down if there was an offer.
Tip #5: Dispute Minor Administrative Charges
I’ve always felt that charges for minor things like copies, prints, postage, and such were ridiculous and borderline insulting when you’re paying hundreds of dollars per hour already. It’s like ordering a ribeye from Ruth’s Chris, and then being billed for the steak sauce (I know–who in their right mind would EVER put steak sauce on a ribeye?).
There are still a number of firms that bill for these sorts of administrative items, along with fees incurred from legal research subscriptions such as Westlaw or LexisNexis. The growing trend is that law firms are absorbing these charges into overhead and not billing clients. So if you see these, ask for them to be removed. It probably won’t make as much of a difference on the bottom line as a deck chair being thrown off the Titanic, but it’s worth a shot.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it may help you a bit as you work through your invoices. If there are any brave lawyers out there with additional tips, let me know!