Fees & Costs

The first and most pressing question on almost every potential client’s mind is, “Just how much is this going to cost?” In law school, lawyers-to-be are taught the one magic answer for virtually every single legal question. That answer is: It Depends.

Unfortunately, fees are determined in largely the same way. Every case is unique, and every client is billed according to the amount of work required. I can, however, provide general guidelines to my pricing structure.

DISCLAIMER: Please note these are rough, general principles. The written retainer agreement between us controls over anything written here.

First, we need to understand the difference between fees and costs.

A fee is money that you pay to me, for my professional services. It is money to compensate me for my time, advice, legal analysis, and, in a word, work. The fee is the money that I “take home.”

A cost is money that is incurred as a result of your legal matter. For example, courts charge money to file things (this is usually called a “filing fee,” but for our purposes here it is a COST, not a FEE…the filing fee goes to the court, not to me). Court reporters charge money to take depositions. It costs money to print documents, mail letters, and pay expert witnesses. These are costs. They are incurred separate and apart from my fee. I do not “take home” costs; they are paid to the courts and other third parties.

Most estate plans and probates are billed on a “flat fee.” What that means is that you pay me a one-time payment, and that is my fee. You will not have to pay me anything else for a fee. However, since every case is unique, there may be additional costs incurred. For example, if we file a Formal Administration, we might need to hire an accountant to complete the final accounting of the estate. There may be a cost for this, which you would need to pay.

I make every effort to estimate what all the fees and costs will be prior to signing a retainer agreement, but all I can do is provide averages; there are always outliers at either end of the spectrum. In any event, if it appears your costs in a flat fee matter are spiraling out of control far above what I have estimated, I will contact you and we will find a mutually beneficial way to proceed.

Matters involving extensive litigation are paid on a “retainer” structure. What this means is that you pay me a lump sum, which I will draw my fee from as the case continues. You are liable for costs exactly as with a flat fee, but my fee is handled differently. Depending on how the case goes, you may get some of your “retainer” back, or have to pay additional “retainer” fees to cover additional work (technically this isn’t a true retainer, which is money paid to ensure a lawyer’s services are available; in legal terms these funds are more properly characterized as an “advancement on fees and costs,” but let’s not get bogged down in minutiae). As always, the final sum for legal fees and costs will depend upon the length and difficulty of the legal matter, the provisions of our written retainer agreement, and other factors like going to trial.

So, as you can see, I and other attorneys are not actually trying to be difficult or run some sort of con when we are cagey about fees and costs. It’s because we simply will not know just how complex your legal problem is until we talk to you!