Home > law general > “What the H*** did you charge me so much for??”–Paying your lawyer

“What the H*** did you charge me so much for??”–Paying your lawyer

We hear this a lot–attorney’s fees are too high!  What the hell are you charging me for??  Why do you charge upwards of $150/hr (which is really cheap in today’s legal market)?  Everyone is so OUTRAGED by attorney’s fees(!).

Most lawyers are NOT sharks.

Everyone is sure that the lawyer is getting rich and going on spendy vacations on their dime.  And after having an individual accuse me of dishonestly billing today, I’m feeling sassy enough to tackle this topic.

So what DO those fees go to?

You may not be aware of it, but a law firm is a business.  One attorney, ten attorneys, whatever–it’s still a business, with overhead, and payroll, insurance, etc.  A (not-exclusive) list of typical business expenses involved in running a law firm:

1) Malpractice insurance–while this isn’t required, one would be extremely foolish to not have it.  People seem to think they should get the world for nothing, and when their unrealistic expectations are not met, they become angry and sue.  It happens.  And it could bankrupt an attorney in a big fat hurry;

2) Property/liability insurance for the office space;

3) Purchase or lease of a photocopier and all the other equipment necessary to run an office (fax machine, smaller printers, computers, phones, etc.);

Time is the inventory in the Lawyer Store.

4) Utilities–heat, electric, water, phones, all that;

5) Rent on the building/office space, or a mortgage;

6) Payroll–the paralegals do not work for free, and get paid whether or not they work directly on a client’s case;

7) Taxes–self-employment tax for the attorney, and all the taxes that have to be matched by employers and paid on behalf of employees;

#8) Any other benefits provided to employees (like health insurance);

9) Business licensing fees, continuing legal education fees (must be done yearly, and cost at a minimum $500), bar fees (also must be paid yearly to maintain a law license);

10) Subscription fees to the State’s online case look-up program (so your lawyer can keep track of what’s been filed in your case by both/all sides without having to spend a lot of time calling the court on your behalf), subscription fees to online legal databases (also to maximize their time spent working on research for your case);

11) Storage space for past closed case files (that must be maintained legally for specified periods of time);

12) Office supplies, postage, cleaning supplies for maintaining the office, light bulbs, snow removal, maintenance of the building and grounds, etc., etc., etc.;

13) Advertising (clients have to come from SOMEwhere).

14) Paying the Lawyer!  S/he has her/his own personal expenses and family to take care of, as well as hefty student loans to repay.  S/he’s gotta eat, too (and likely buy his/her own health insurance.)

You can bet HE doesnt work for free--he charges hourly, too. He just doesnt have the business expenses to cover.

Your plumber charges you for his time.  Your dentist charges you for his time.  Your doctor charges you for his time.  Your mechanic charges you for his time.  (Interestingly enough, they all charge for parts as well–think about that one for a minute.)  Your therapist charges for his time.

What do lawyers have in common with all of these other professions?  We are selling our TIME and EXPERTISE.  That’s the stock in trade for a lawyer–it’s the inventory in the store.  You would not expect the plumber, doctor, dentist, mechanic, etc., to work for free.  Why do you expect your lawyer to?  Where does the money come from to pay for all of these expenses listed above?  Attorney’s fees, earned by billing for the time spent working on YOUR  and their other clients’ cases– ONLY the time spent working on cases.  That’s it.

Probably Not.

I did not go to law school for 3 years, and have to study for/take/pass the bar exam, and pay through the nose both financially and mentally for all of it, for nothing.

Dealing with other peoples problems for a living can really suck--ESPECIALLY if you cant make a living.

I’m into my legal career a significant amount of money at this point, and for what?  So I can give away the store for free?

In a perfect world, I’d be able to provide my services for free to people who need me.  This is not a perfect world.  I’m running a business, and have expenses, just like every other lawyer out there.  Please remember that, and remember that we still need to make a living, too.

Categories: law general
  1. Kerry
    April 19, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Not to mention that we DO take cases for free when we work pro bono and there are times when we can take things on contingency. Honestly, there are very few lawyers who are out for your pocketbook, and the rest of the bar doesn’t like them either.


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