Problem #1: Hourly Billing
Some prices are easy to understand. Some are not.
Paying $1 for a Coke is easy to understand. You pay $1 and you get a Coke. That’s it. That’s all. Transaction done.
Paying for most Utah divorce attorneys, on the other hand, is not easy to understand.
Most attorneys bill by the hour (96% to be precise), which really means they bill for every second they think about your case.
Every phone call. Billed.
Every email. Billed.
Every time they think about your case while they walk their dog. Billed.
You see the problem, right? It’s not an easy-to-understand price when you have no idea how your lawyer bills or how much your case will end up costing.
Problem #2: Overcharging
When you don’t understand the price you’re paying for something, you always worry you’re being overcharged.
It’s human nature.
If you feel your divorce lawyer is billing you by the hour and overcharging you, you need to make sure you’re right.
Here are a few tips to do that:
- Make sure the hourly rate is what you agreed to in your retainer.
Sometimes, lawyers will charge an hourly amount higher than what you were quoted. Make sure it’s in line with what you agreed. This goes for paralegal hourly rates as well.
- Make sure the line-item charges on your invoices make sense.
When attorneys bill by the hour, they usually use line-item charges. For example, a phone call line-item charge will look like this: “phone call to client regarding parent-time this weekend.” Another line-item charge example might be: “travel to and from court for temporary orders.”
Read through a couple divorce attorney invoices and you’ll get the hang of how they bill.
If you’re afraid you’re being overchraged, you need to go back over your invoice and make sure they make sense.
For instance, if you see line-item charges for phone calls with you that didn’t happen (hint: check your phone to see if the dates match up), then there might be an overcharging billing problem. Same goes for emails line-item charges.
If you see charges for attending hearings that didn’t happen on the date listed in the invoice, you might have a problem.
- Check to see what you’re being charged for “fees.”
Divorce attorneys will charge “fees” for everything under the sun.
For example, I worked for a firm that would charge $2 per page for faxes (remember those?). That was on top of the time they billed for the paralegal sending the fax. (I got out of that place as quick as I could when I saw what was going on.)
Check your bill to see if you’re being nickled-and-dimed to death with fees.
If you are, you can rest assured your attorney is overcharging you in other ways.
Problem #3: Talking to Your Utah Divorce Lawyer about Being Overcharged
If you’re convinced you’re divorce lawyer is overcharging you, how should you handle things?
First, call your attorney’s paralegal and have him or her explain to you the overcharges.
This piece of advice is super important. If the paralegal can explain each of the line-item charges you’re worried about in plain English, and without being evasive, then there’s a very good chance the charges are legitimate.
Second, if, after your conversation with your attorney’s paralegal, you still feel like you’re being overcharged, meet with your attorney.
If you still feel like things aren’t quite kosher, sit down with your attorney and discuss your concerns.
Any honest attorney is more than willing to go over invoices to make a client feel comfortable.
If your attorney won’t meet with you, or the explanations you’re given don’t make much sense, or you feel like the discussion was more of a “salesy” than honest and educational, then you have a problem.
Also, and this is super important as well, no honest attorney will charge you to sit down and discuss your billing concerns. If your attorney does charge to sit down and discuss billing concerns, then you can be almost certain you’re being overcharged.
Problem #4: You’ve Done Everything Suggested and You’re Still Sure You’re Being Overcharged
So, you’ve done everything outlined above and you’re sure you’re being overcharged. What should you do?
Get out. Hire another attorney.
You have to trust your divorce attorney. If you don’t, find another one. Now.
Last Thing: Solution to Problem #1 — Flat Fees
Lots of the overcharging problems we’ve talked about here result from hourly billing.
Hourly billing allows attorneys to hide the total cost of a case, getting a little up front without telling you how much things will cost in the end.
Hourly billing also allows attorneys who want to overcharge you to make up billing entries.
By contrast, flat fees take away an attorney ability to pad bills and overcharge clients because, well, it’s a flat fee.
With flat fees, there’s no incentive to overcharge because the attorney doesn’t get any more money by padding an invoice.
You know what the price is upfront with flat fees. There’s real power in that.
This is why we at Brown Law charge flat fees.
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