When you hire a lawyer, you put a significant amount of trust into that attorney. You trust the lawyer to perform his or her duties and charge you accordingly. What you don't expect is to receive a charge worth more than you originally discussed.
How do you know if your lawyer is overcharging you? Here are a few things you should watch for when you hire an attorney.
Double billing occurs when an attorney bills two clients for the same hour of work. Studies have shown that approximately one-third of attorneys who participated admitted that they double billed clients at one time or another. In addition, only about 50 percent of attorneys in a study conducted in 2007 thought that double billing was unethical. This is in the face of the stance the American Bar Association has taken condemning such practices.
Many people who work in professional industries such as accounting, legal practices and even some kinds of medical offices use time-based billing practices. While many of these people round up or down to the next 15-minute interval, some cross the line into padding the hours.
For example, if an attorney spends one and a half hours working on your case or other legal issue and bills you for two, three or even four hours for the service, this is the practice of padding. Some legal practitioners even think that a time-based billing model provides an incentive for attorneys to do work that is minimal or unnecessary.
Billing for overhead
When an attorney provides an hourly billing rate, you expect at least a portion of that to go toward overhead costs of the partners operating the firm. However, when you are paying an attorney $500 per hour and receive an invoice with extra charges that include things like the total expense for the legal office to run the air conditioning on the weekends or meals for employees who work late, then your attorney could be engaging in questionable, inappropriate and even illegal billing practices.
Billing partner rates for menial tasks
In most practices, there are various billing rate levels. For instance, you might see a $50 charge for work performed by a lower-level employee who did research, performed administrative work or some other trivial task. This is not uncommon. You would see a different, higher rate for the work actually performed by an attorney. However, if every bill you receive has the same higher hourly rate, then you could be paying $500 per hour for those menial tasks performed by interns.
There are various ways that an attorney can overcharge you in addition to the above. To avoid being taken advantage of, it is important to stay vigilant. If you think that your attorney has charged you with excessive fees or engaged in unethical or illegal billing practices, you might be able to take legal action.