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.
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.