I feel like my lawyer is overcharging me. How do I best handle this?

QUESTION:

I really like my lawyer. She is excellent, and the law firm is well respected. That said, I feel like my lawyer is overcharging me for the work done? How do I best handle this? I don’t want to ruin our relationship.

ANSWER:

Ethan Stone

Ethan Stone

by Ethan Stone, Stone Business Law

My first inclination is to tell you to pay happily. Lawyers are worth every penny they charge. They deserve to be paid in full and on time!

That’s not very helpful, however.

So speaking as a lawyer (and not yours), I think the first thing you need to keep in mind is that if you like your lawyer and the service you’re getting, you don’t want to do anything that will make you a “problem client.” We try to give our best work to every client, of course, but we’re human and we’re under economic pressure to collect our bills. So if your lawyer starts thinking of you as a client who is constantly griping, haggling and delaying payment, that might unconsciously affect the relationship and possibly even the work in ways you should try to avoid.

So how do you deal with the problem without becoming a “problem client.” That depends to some extent on why you think the charge is too high. I’m assuming, since you say you like the lawyer, that you don’t think she’s padding her hours. And I’m also assuming you don’t have any kind of “flat fee” arrangements with her. So it probably boils down to a feeling that too many lawyers are spending too many hours to do work that should take less.

If that’s the nature of the problem, the best way to deal with it is to call the lawyer, tell her that your legal expenses have been running higher than your budget, and ask if you can talk to her about ways you might be able to streamline things. The point is not to accuse her of charging you too much or to get into a fight about hours already recorded. That will make her annoyed or defensive. Rather, try to get her thinking about ways to help you get things under control. She knows better than you do what’s going on and why, so she’s in a better position to come up with effective ways to control the hours. When you put your heads together, for example, you might find that the lawyers have been doing things for you that you could really do yourself, just to try and be helpful (or because you asked them to without thinking through how much it would cost).

Bear in mind that once your lawyer and her colleagues enter hours into the firm’s billing system, they show up as accounts receivable on the firm’s finances. So her partners will see it if you force her to write down lots of hours that have already been booked. At best, that will annoy her. At worst, it could be a serious internal problem for her. So if I were you, I would pay your most current bill in full right before you have the conversation about getting things under control (again, assuming you don’t think you were actually billed in error or for work that shouldn’t have been done at all). That will clearly signal that you’re looking for help in managing legal costs, not trying to get retroactive discounts on work already done.

I hope this helps. Legal work always costs more than you think it should (that’s how I feel when I’m the client, anyway), but there should be ways to keep it within acceptable limits.

Comments & Advice:
  1. Mia says:

    Being a lawyer for many seems to me like having found a legal way to rob people. What is it they do that really usually warrants the often over $300 per hour I see regularly charged? They read an email consisting of a few lines and its a rounded off charge of $50. Neat trick, I’d like to bill people for having to read work related email too. Other than going elsewhere the clients have little recourse because how can you argue what they did is not worth the exorbitant money they charge or prove it. People are stuck because the legal system is complicated and the attorney is trained how it works and which forms are required. The huge fees often billed though are rarely commensurate with the actual work required especially if it were done efficiently. I advise to try to get a flat quote or fee upfront but there are pitfalls to that approach as well. Hourly rate without constraint will often be like handing a crack addict a blank check. Also make sure when you pay at the end you specify that concludes the fees. I was getting bills for a few hundred here and there for loose end things they forgot to do or having to read some correspondence that came in related to settling an estate years later.

    “My first inclination is to tell you to pay happily. Lawyers are worth every penny they charge. They deserve to be paid in full and on time!” -Says the lawyer!

  2. hoque says:

    yes, i do agree, the most hated profession in the world, 95% deserves to go hell.

  3. NDS says:

    I am not surprised that the first thing Mr. Stone assumes is that the person’s lawyer asking for advise is a “she”. We own several businesses and not one lawyer that we have ever used have made us feel they were worth all the money we’ve paid, this includes estate/trust attorneys. We have a trust attorney who charges us for work that we didn’t even authorize. We receive a bill in the mail for $2500 because they were accidentally contacted by our bank because we are trying to short sale our home. They were the wrong attorney, our bank should of contacted our BK attorney, but this trust attorney claimed they researched the issue which they agree was not their issue but bill us anyway for trying to determine what issue it was! Ha!

    Mr Stone, your advise, “My first inclination is to tell you to pay happily. Lawyers are worth every penny they charge” is a very big red flag!

  4. NDS says:

    We own several businesses and not one lawyer that we have ever used have made us feel they were worth all the money we’ve paid, this includes estate/trust attorneys. We have a trust attorney who charges us for work that we didn’t even authorize. We receive a bill in the mail for $2500 because they were accidentally contacted by our bank because we are trying to short sale our home. They were the wrong attorney, our bank should of contacted our BK attorney, but this trust attorney claimed they researched the issue which they agree was not their issue but bill us anyway for trying to determine what issue it was! Ha!

    Mr Stone, your advise, “My first inclination is to tell you to pay happily. Lawyers are worth every penny they charge” is a very big red flag!

  5. Moti says:

    Hello
    I want to know if you can give me advice. My lawyer agree with
    Fees of $10.000 and $500 per hours , but he send me bills to
    For $38.000- , and I know he overcharge me for the work and
    I want to fight in court and pay is bill !!
    So how do I go about removing him and also do gavrament
    Complain about him !! I am ready to fight in court and I will try
    Not to pay this bill !!

  6. Juanita says:

    Social Security has laws in place to protect a client regarding overpayment. How does this work with Long Term Disability?

  7. Corey says:

    I am amazed with most lawyer tactics. However I feel that my current attorney is legit. Without getting into to many details, I tried to go the small claims route that had a $10,000 limit in my state and jurisdiction. The defendant in this case hired an attorney who immediately requested a pre-trial conference. At the pretrial conference, the judge dismissed the case on the grounds that my particular law suit is not in the small claims jurisdiction. Not to be outdone, I retained an attorney in the proper District court who has taken my case on an hourly basis and a retainer fee up front which is common place for my particular case. The amounit of damages being sought is in the 6 figures range. I could not be more pleased. The only wish I would have at this juncture in my case is that my lawyears supporting staff (paralegal and/or legal secretary had the same intensity that my lawyer has displayed.I’m not saying that I disagree with the majority of comments in this forum, I am just praying that I have found a good lawyer which seems to be 10% of the time.

  8. Filtch says:

    I am with SuckerPunched says:
    January 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    What a bunch of CRAP! “Problem client?” GIVE ME A BREAK! “My first inclination is to tell you to pay happily. Lawyers are worth every penny they charge. They deserve to be paid in full and on time!” Could you be anymore arrogant and condescening? Could you be anymore transparent? Now I go to Ken who is a pensioner like my self. There has to be some one who will look at the charges, I cornered my solicitor when he presented me with 2 bills recently when I went to collect a cheque from him for a small claim, these which he said was owed for case 8-10 years ago. Not only could he not provide me with details of what he was billing me for, but he refused to give me a copy of his supposed bills when I threatened to go to another solicitor. The argument got to shouting where upon I told him to hang on to the cheque and informed him that I would go through another solicitor. On this note he started to back track and to my amazement he with drew the aged bills telling me that it wasnt fair to charge me for them as they were old cases. I then asked hold old does a case have to be before he was legally allowed to charge me, he then said 6 years. In my mind he degraded himself by doing this, he then quickly got his secetary to allot me a new cheque, after telling me that this couldnt be done. Sad greedy person in my mind. They do have lawyer tactics people, so stand up for your self, fk the friendship bit, after all is said and done, you are giving them work, they should be grateful on all accounts, keep all this be nice stuff for the man that employs you, and remimer that those who you employ should be as gratefull as you are to your employer. In general after 50 years of using solicitors, they want money, they have learned the skill of extracting it from you, you must make them earn it,question every penny and dont feel in the least bad about it, become a what this man Ethan Stone suggests that you dont become, a constantly griping, haggling and delaying payment client, its your God given right.

  9. Peter says:

    ell here is my experience with my patent lawyer.

    I work in the construction for over 30 years specializing in one trade, at some point I came up with an idea of a unique hand tool, so I found this lawyer and we did the patent search; and the search results showed it was a patentable/good idea.

    So then we got down to business with the lawyer, and first thing I asked (like any normal person would do) was how much this patent proses will cost?! so here is what he said and what happened: he asked for 3.000 dollars to file the provisional application (but he charged me 8.000 )…. he then asked for 7.000 to file the non provisional (he charged me 20.000)… he asked for 20.000 thousand to file for the European (he charged me 50.000 thousand dollars!!!) he was charging me MORE than twice the amounts we had disused!!!…but you see this was never on email!

    For 4 years (which was the patent’s processing period) I was receiving bills from this lawyer every 2-3 months with various amounts and with the same description every time: (for services rendered) nothing else!

    I was billed 78.000 dollars within 4 years, but he received from me 65.000, because at that point my mind just FLIPPED! and I said F**K patents I’m done!!! so I filed bankruptcy to get him of my back! (it was not just him causing me to file bankruptcy though there was also a house I bought to fix and sell but the market crashed as I was fixing it and the home’s value went down from 400k to 240k so it had to go)

    But the whole patent proses with this lawyer was one of my worst nightmares! I almost got divorced with my wife, I took away from my family everything those 4 years in order to keep up with those unexpected mad bills!! when I complained to him about the bills and that we where up to 65.000 his answer was (Ohhh! really? we are that much?) if I had a gun in my hands he’d be dead today.

    God felt sorry for me at that time and the patent was granted by the uspto! and at least I was happy that I had my patent!… so I decided to give this hairless creep “gangster” the benefit of the doubt, and so I spoke with him and told him that I would take care of this last bill (of 13.000 dollars!) at a later time when I get back on my feet (big mistake, those last minute charges are part of their tactic for someone who’s gone a long way with a patent they do that at the end thinking you will cough up money if you want your patent!)

    So I went to develop this tool with a fried of mine who was older and knew a lot around products etc. but there was an unexpected discovery, one of the materials that we needed to make this tool was very expensive! each peace cost 48.00 dollars and this price was if one would order thousands of peaces in China! so I went back to the drawing board to redesign the tool to avoid using that part, and I did it! I replaced that part by changing the design with something that cost less than one dollar. but now I need patenting again! the design changed!

    So I go back to rum-nuts and ask him if he wants to file the provisional for this, this time he was more down to earth with the prices and I was flat fee ONLY agreement, he asked for 900 dollars to file the provisional (by the way this is the same tool with just a swamp of that one part and a small design change; but according to him it is a new patent)..

    So the provisional is filed and I am thinking that I am all good now, I will start making/selling this tool soon and with the funds everything will be ok; and when the time comes to file the non provisional I’ll be all set financially. well! there is an old saying that says: (when people make plans for the future life laughs at them)

    Talking about bad luck, my friend and partner who was planning on investing some money on the project, he was unexpectedly transferred from his company to go work in another state, and his salary was cut down 50% (this was due to the economy’s crash) he went down from making 120k a year to 58k! so he couldn’t stand those changes and decided to leave the country!

    I was left by my self, loooong story short, a year later I had to file the non provisional and he asked me for 6.500 dollars, I payed it. again I thought by the time the examiners will start with their BS I would be ok, but that is now and I am not ok, 2 years have gone by and boy have I had bad luck, a year and half ago my mother who was fine with no health issues; suddenly was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 63, so I was fighting my mothers cancer which at the end we lost, work got slower not as it used to, processing the tool’s development is not the easiest thing for me.

    And now the patent has come to the end, and there is an office action required by the examiner, and the lawyer says to me he wants 3.000 to respond to the office action (and this is after asking him numerous times HOW MUCH WILL THIS COST…because he tried to do what he did to me the first time by writing to me: Dear Peter let us know if you would like us to prepare a respond… without saying to me how much this respond will cost…the first time I was an idiot and I would say yes go ahead and respond…. and then the bills would be coming in like heavy rain fall)

    So now he wants 3.000 to respond AND money from those past wicked charges (meaning from the 13.000 from the first patent) so he is basically using his tactic again now, it is the end and he is thinking I have no choice but to cough up the money. if this isn’t pure gangster tactic I don’t know what is.

    This person has received from me all together (with out the 13.000 included) close to 75.000 so far for patenting a little hand tool, and I have gone through hell the way everything went, I am so disgusted at this point with patent lawyers I will never give them another dime. I am ready to abandon this second patent, I am so disgusted with him that even if it was for nickle I will still abandon the patent, I don’t want these people to ever get another penny from me.

    And if I ever decide to file for patent ever again it will be abroad, I have lived in another country for 17 years (I am 47) and I have done business with lawyers and I’ll tell you there is nothing to compare, lawyers in other countries are normal kind and very respectful people, they don’t charge arms and legs, not like here where they think they are some special class above others, and we ow them the world for their work.

    Next lawyer that I will do business (IF) here in the US will bump in to a big concrete wall, anything I haven’t agreed to pay in writing? (he will get out of the three the longest)

    Also if any lawyer asks me for any work on his house the price will be 3-4 times higher than normal (take it or leave it) and I will start advising all coworkers to start pricing same to lawyers. most of them are all already pist with lawyers each one with their own story, there is even a joke going around that says: (what do you call 10 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?) Answer: (A good start!)This joke shows how people are fed-up with lawyers BS. sad…..

    Thank you.

  10. Hate Lawyers says:

    ETHAN STONE your answer is OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!!!!!!!
    Lawyers should not be treated any differently than a handyman. Any cheat or one who overcharges should be called on it. Let’s face it. Most lawyers are awful at their job, not worth even a fraction of what they charge and many if not most overcharge intentionally. Since we cannot outlaw lawyers anytime soon (in early days they WERE outlawed), they should be be fired if they don’t lower their bill when warranted. It’s like any other business, supply and demand. There’s too many lawyers, so try to find a fair one – though most of us know that’s like finding a diamond at the beach.

  11. GAKE JUNIOR IN GLASS CASTLE says:

    Ide like to know how a lawyer charges any money with this no win no fee rubbish. I am out of pocket over 1 and a half million dollars and have just been offered a 110K settlement and they want part of that. ARE YOU FRIGGING KIDDING? NO WAY I WONT ACCEPT THE SETTLEMENT. ILL LET WORKCOVER USE IT ALL WHILE IM IN THEIR CARE AND BE WHERE IM AT AT THE END OF IT. THEIVING FOLS.

  12. Steve says:

    Gake Junior in Glass Castle-

    Take a look at this site, they may be able to help.

    http://www.reviewbilling.com

  13. paul says:

    I have a claim dats gone to court they have asked for costs but my lawyer has asked for 2000 still .I tink I’m being ripped off

  14. Izzy says:

    Ethan Stone – If you were my Lawyer….
    You as a Lawyer have been employed by me to get a job done within an acceptable time and at reasonable costs. If you think I’ll become ‘a problem client’ by asking questions and querying costs it would be in the interests of the Lawyer to be completely transparent from the outset, (unless of course they have anything to hide) this would negate any cause for you to get ‘annoyed or defensive’. Your article suggests to me that you want your client to sit in a box and keep schtum.
    Remember, if anyone is dissatisfied with their costs, insist on an itemised bill and if necessary get them reviewed by the court by way of detailed assessment.

  15. Steve says:

    Hello,

    I posted earlier for Gake Junior, but looks like he is not the only one that thinks he is being taken advantage of with his lawyer bills. I was in the same spot as most of you, so we created http://www.reviewbilling.com. If your in the same position, visit our website, simply fill out the form or give us a call and let us review your legal bills for over-charging, bill padding and double billing. If we don’t find any over-charging, at least you will have peace of mind.

    Steve
    http://www.reviewbilling.com

  16. Very comprehensive advice. When you think that your lawyer is overcharging you then you need to see what your contract says? What’s his hourly rate? Lawyers are very expensive and it can add up quickly as they charge for every little thing. Every time they pick up a piece of paper for your case they will charge you hundreds of dollars.

    I would recommend that you ask your lawyer for an itemized bill to find out exactly how all that money has been spent. You are entitled to an itemized bill. Once you get it you should get some idea of whether or not you are being overcharged.

  17. Shannon Stephenson says:

    My case is low income where the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office assisted with child support calculations and arrearage balance. My lawyer was hired AFTER to establish Contempt but only requested $6502 to my exhusband while billing me over $12,000 ~ I only needed him for Contempt, not to double bill me for duplicating the State’s work. I fired him when he DEMANDED my purge of $2890 towards HIS bill without asking for the $6502 legal award as a purge ~ instead it was added to the end of my arrearage which I pay $200 a month and $125 of that is just interest for my lawyer :( I guess my question is this: If my ex lawyer told the Courts $6502 was for working on Contempt, I MUST be paying all the rest for services already provided by the State for FREE… Thank you in advance! Shannon

  18. Shannon Stephenson says:

    I requested my entire file on 1/12/15 and Motion to Compel on 3/12/15 and STILL don’t have it, nor a detailed billing as requested in those Motions :(

  19. putik says:

    Lawyer commy pinko scumm…

  20. Davey Jones says:

    My lawyer played on the coat tails of my Co-defendant. He said it would cost 70K and 70K as a contingency with the unused portion returned. The trial is completed and I received a bill for 140K.

    Then my homeowners insurance finially kicked-in. Then I was presented with a bill of 350K with a request to submit it to the Insurance Co. Concidering the implication,could this be considered an act of fraud by the Insurance Commissioner.

  21. Susie says:

    My attorney has been paid $20,000 since April 2014. I received half of my requested support and nothing has developed since. Now he is requesting me to research for receipts and home improvement cost in order that I obtain half of these cost. He is requesting another three thousand and I don’t have a court date or any figures of what I will be entitled to from a 25 year long marriage. What is your suggestion? I also paid for a deposition that was grueling and cut short as the opposing attorney stated” this is getting nowhere”

  22. andrew silvestri says:

    A lawyer have me settement price then he reduces it what your comment

  23. Jeanette Bush says:

    My lawyer settled a case, part of the whole medical mesh fiasco. It is wrongful death as my mother passed away a year and a half ago. So she hired the lawyer and agreed to 40%… a settlement was reached recently and they are finalizing amounts. I was asked to now sign and agree to 40% of gross and all costs and expenses. It seems fishy to me to add this now. They first told me they wanted me to sign to make sure they connected wrongful death to case. I signed affidavit for that months ago. I asked specific questions prior to reading the emailed document. Once I read it, it didn’t match up to what they’ve said. My family still waits to bury my mother and move on, and yet I want to be smart too.How can I know they aren’t just trying to take advantage?

  24. Angry client says:

    I had attorney by the name of Gina Aguirre in West Covina CA I hired her to handle my divorce and child support boy did she rip me off. A year later still haven’t seen a judge but yet I owe her $14000 and half of the bills are emails. This lawyer did nothing for me. I am a single mom and she took advantage of me. She was so unprofessional telling me my case wasn’t urgent who says that charging $300 he. Do not hire her anyone

  25. steve says:

    Ethan…really? dont say anything just shut up and take it? All lawyers have your best interests in mind? scuse me?… but…did u hit ur head? were you involved in an accident? You’ve never actually visited one did you? People remember the lawyers work for you not vise versa. Just like everyone else when you find your too far in and cant change lawyers without great expense you have to just finish it. A lawyer streamlining payments? lol oh Ethan ur killin me! A lawyer taking payments for services already rendered?! wow what planet does this firm reside on? Look peeps find the best you can and ride it out then if they breach laws and / or contracts…hammer them hard! BBB and the BAR are always interested in this stuff so is the Office of Civil Rights. Document your days with them keep all correspondence let em hang themselves. Also you would be surprised how many firms out there that would LOVE to take a case where impropriety of another firm is involved….ya wanna see lawyers at their worst? watch what they do to each other…I did and it was awesome!

  26. Catherine Bannister says:

    I agree with so many the no win no fee BS after using shine i over 3 years i was asked to come in only 4 times they asked me to email evidence , keep receipts, a diary list goes on they didnt win how ever the other side paid 77 000 to me but out of that i had to pay for the operation i had to pay medi through 3 years and more came out of that i had to pay centrelink and others i got 6500 out of all of it.. you cant tell me shine took a huge chunk im so angry they take advantage of you so dont go to shine

  27. Steve says:

    Think you’re being overcharged by you lawyer, give us a call or visit our website http://www.reviewbilling.com

  28. wayne says:

    I was recently asked to attened the police station regarding a suspected fraud case and asked a solicitor that has represented me in the past to help . He said that it would cost £800 + VAT to attended with me at the police station. The police cancelled after we had been waiting for over an hour. Then asked to re attend a week later . We did so an I was not charged and asked to help as a key witness and I have agreed .
    Since then I have been submitted with a bill from my solicitor for nearly £4,000.
    I questioned the bill, I requested a break down of the bill and it was mentioned that I was charged per hour .
    He said that it was in his terms and conditions that he sent out with the contract.
    This was something that I have never seen or signed as it was never agreed to being charged per hour if I was ever to have known his rate I would have declined his services, in the mean time I have paid the original amount agreed and he is demanding more.
    Can you please help as I have sat down and tried to resolve this.
    It was mentioned that as I didn’t sign or receive the contract that this will covered by the 2 day postal law and this will mean that it was accepted as signed , is this so ?

  29. Dstroll says:

    This guy Ethan stone is an asshole” problem client? How about problem lawyers that don’t answer ur phone calls for days 20k my lawyer did absolutely nothing for me divorce lawyers are blood sucking leeches w no hearts or morals and use children as weapons

  30. rodeo says:

    This is a typical reply from a lawyer protecting a lawyer. In most part lawyers do good work and get paid well. There are some who are like used car dealers and will rip you off at the drop of a gavel. Over charging, doubling up hours on multiple client accounts are not uncommon. I suggest if you feel you are being overcharged, request an itemised schedule of their billing and don’t be ‘shy’ about it as this lawyer suggests. After all he’s only protecting the old boys club and you’re paying.

  31. Chris Hanly says:

    Check out Viewabill.com. Real time insight into what outside counsel is working on and costing you, at any time.

  32. Steve says:

    If you feel like you’re being overcharged by your attorney, visit our website and we will do brief analysis of your invoices/bills for free. If we find in our opinion that you are being overcharged, you have an option for us to do a full file report.

    If you have any questions visit our website and fill out the contact form or give us a call.

    http://www.reviewbilling.com

  33. Dan says:

    “Just keep your mouth shut and pay.”
    That’s rich. You think you are worth all the money?
    People are forced to retain lawyers because other lawyers created court rules and guidelines. The fact that you think you are worth that much money is a joke. I hired an attorney to defend an ex-business partner’s frivilous lawsuit and my well paid “attorney” sat with a perplexed look as I personally proceeded to punch holes in the claims.
    If it were up to me, I would have flipped her a ten spot and sent her on her way.

  34. Allan says:

    My lawyer charges me $96 to accept my payment, then I pay the $96, and then get another invoice for $96 to accept that payment.

    How can I get out of this perpetual billing cycle?

    Gotta love lawyers??

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