Important Notification: This site and any information contained herein is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice relevant or applicable to your situation. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.
1. How will I be billed for legal services?
Legal fees are generally charged on one of several bases - either based on an hourly fee, a contingency fee, or a flat rate. The manner and rate you will be charged will always be clearly spelled out in a fee-agreement letter that you will receive prior to our offices being engaged by you.
2. What is an hourly fee arrangement?
As one might expect, attorney's fees based on an hourly fee arrangement are charged and billed according to the time the attorney spends on your matter. It is a time-based fee arrangement. Under this fee plan, you and your attorney will enter into an agreement for a set hourly rate for services he or she provides. Then, the attorney will carefully record all time dedicated to your matter, in one-tenth-of-an-hour (6 minute) increments, and you are billed in accordance with those times. Billable time usually includes all time spent on a matter, including, but not limited to, meetings or telephone conversations with you or your representatives, any opposing counsel, other parties and witnesses, as well as court appearances, drafting and reviewing correspondences and court documents, legal research and travel. BUELOW LAW OFFICES does not, however, bill you for time dedicated to purely administrate functions, such as time preparing your billing statement, filing, etc.
Most cases, including family, business, and real estate matters, as well as estate planning, are usually billed under an hourly-fee arrangement. The administration of a deceased's estate may also be billed on an hourly basis, though such cases are frequently billed according to a percentage of the value of the decedent's estate.
3. What is a contingency-fee arrangement?
Contingency-fee arrangements are typically utilized in personal injury cases, particularly where the injured party is not in a financial position to hire an attorney under an hourly-fee arrangement. Under a contingency fee arrangement, your attorney will receive a percentage of the money received from your case, whether that money is received as a result of a settlement or a verdict after a trial. Typically, such agreements provide that the attorney will not get paid unless and until you receive money from your case.
Under many contingency fee arrangements, the attorney will agree to advance all expenses of the case (court costs, expert fees, etc.) to be paid back by you only when and if you eventually collect money from your case.
Most contingency-fee agreements will usually provide that upon receiving money from a settlement or verdict in a case, the money received will be divided, after the reimbursement of expenses, between you and your attorney at an agreed-upon ratio. Most typically, two-thirds would go to you and one-third to your attorney.
4. What is a flat-fee arrangement?
In certain circumstances, your attorney may offer you the opportunity to pay a flat fee for a specified service. This is a single fee paid once, usually up front in its entirety. Under this arrangement, this flat fee should cover all legal services performed in connection with your case from beginning to end. Examples of a flat-fee arrangement may include an attorney agreeing to draft a simple will for a pre-determined cost, or administering a decedent's estate based on a percentage of the value of the decedent's estate assets, instead of performing legal services based on an hourly-fee arrangement.
Whether a flat-fee arrangement is more cost-effective for a client than and hourly arrangement is often difficult to determine. Sometimes a client will save considerably on legal fees by negotiating a flat-fee arrangement, but other times the negotiated flat-fee may prove to be most costly to the client. What a flat fee does provide, however, is certainty for the client - that is, the client knows up front what his costs are going to be and plan accordingly. This is because under a flat-fee arrangement, it is the attorney, not the client, who bears the costs of the matter taking longer than expected.
5. What about other costs and expenses?
While legal fees are the primary fees billed by a law office, there are certain expenses that your attorney will generally pay up front, on your behalf, for which you will be responsible for reimbursing the law office. Such expenses include, but are not limited to, charges for long-distance telephone calls, postage, filing fees paid to the court, experts' fees, appraisals, investigative and witness fees, travel expenses, computerized legal research, messengers, photocopies and faxes, and the like. Note that such billing will be only for expenses actually incurred in the furtherance of your matter. 6. What is a retainer fee?
It is common practice for attorneys to require a retainer fee, or simply, a retainer. A retainer is simply an advanced payment against which any hourly fees and/or costs are assessed. It is, in essence, a form of security deposit to ensure payment of future legal fees.
Pennsylvania requires that attorneys keep retainers in a specified bank account, to be drawn upon only after the attorney has earned the legal fees or incurred the expensed for which the withdrawal is taken. In all cases, you will be provided with a detailed accounting of any draws from your retainer. Once your matter or representation has ended, any unused retainer balance will be promptly returned to you.
Note also that once a retainer has been used for legal fees and expenses, the attorney may require an additional retainer to ensure future payment. 7. When will I be billed and how often?
Contingency fee arrangements - contingency-fee-based charges and expenses are paid once a settlement or verdict is reached and paid.
Hourly fee arrangements - generally, hourly fees and expenses are billed to you, or charged against your retainer, at the end of each month.
Flat fee arrangements - payment of flat fees is determined at the outset of the legal engagement. Some cases will require up-front payment of fees, as well as a retainer for expenses. Other cases may have a percentage of the flat fee paid incrementally (i.e., monthly, or at certain case thresholds) as the case proceeds.
8. Can I pay my legal fees and reimbursable expenses with a credit card?
BUELOW LAW OFFICES accepts most major credit cards for payment.
9. Can I arrange for a payment plan?
In certain circumstances, we may be able to assist you by providing a structured payment plan. However, such a plan must be approved prior to your engaging BUELOW LAW OFFICES for your legal matter.
10. What about your "free initial consultation"?
BUELOW LAW OFFICES offers a free initial consultation for purposes of helping you determine whether or not you may have a case worth pursuing through the legal system, and determining whether BUELOW LAW OFFICES can help you as you proceed. This consultation is generally a phone consultation. Note, however, that while our initial consultation may help you decide whether to proceed with a matter, certain rules of conduct that Pennsylvania attorneys must abide by effectively prohibit any attorney from offering legal advice unless and until a written engagement agreement has been signed.
A more in depth in-office consultation is available for approximately one-half of our normal hourly fee, which is fully credited to your account should you decide to engage our office for your legal needs.