What is a Reasonable Attorney’s Fee?

Many times, when people call around looking for lawyers, they are also looking at the cost of each one when doing comparisons. While pricing is certainly a factor when deciding to hire an attorney, it shouldn’t be the only one or the most important factor if you can afford to hire someone with more experience. Hiring a lawyer is typically not something you want to skimp on or go cheap. The old expression that “you get what you pay” for rings true here the most. Usually when you hire someone on a shoestring budget, you get a shoestring lawyer and, unfortunately, often you get shoestring results. The last thing you want is to look back after the case is over and think, “man, was it really worth it to get what I got just to save a little money?” The answer is almost always, “no.”

But, obviously, money is an important factor. If you can’t afford someone, you can’t afford them. Plain and simple. However, if you can afford someone, you might also want to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck. That may cause you to scrutinize the hourly billing or the flat fee billing that comes your way from your attorney. Usually, the complaints come the most on hourly billing, because monthly you are reminded just how much you are spending. And, with an hourly rate staring you in the face, often people are much more cognizant of what they are paying for and what they are getting in return for the perceived time. This often leads to people combing over a bill and arguing over how much the bill is, often questioning the amount of time listed or the total bill based on how much time they think it should have taken, or the amount you have to pay seems high for how long it actually took.

Factors That Determine a Lawyer’s Cost

What most people don’t realize, is that time is only one of a handful of factors in determining a lawyer’s cost. In fact, lawyers can bill for more than how long it actually took to complete the work. The Indiana Rules of Professional Responsibility, lay out the rules lawyers must follow on a host of topics, but Rule 1.5, lays out the specifics on fees. As you read the statute below, be mindful of what actually can be billed for and what can’t. You might be surprised what is allowed and what isn’t. And, as you will clearly see, time, is only one of a host of considerations for fees lawyers can earn.

Rule 1.5. Fees(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

(1)    the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;

(2)    the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;

(3)    the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;

(4)    the amount involved and the results obtained;

(5)    the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;

(6)    the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;

(7)    the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and

(8)    whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

As the statute reads, the first question all the parties must ask is, “is the fee reasonable?” The 8 factors are not all inclusive but are instructive in making that determination. But look at the factors closely. The amount of time the lawyer spends on your case actually is only listed in paragraph (1). The rest spells out a host of considerations: novelty of the issue, difficulty, skill necessary, that representation of your case will hinder the lawyer’s ability to earn more money from others, a customary fee for this type of offense for locality and similar experienced attorneys, results, time limits imposed by the client or facts, experience of the lawyer, reputation, the ability of the lawyer or lawyers on your case, and the type of fee.

All those factors lead up to a potential fee that doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly with time. If you got something done in 15 minutes that might take someone more inexperienced a full day, they get to bill more than 15 minutes. While that may not seem fair, part of what you are paying for is the expertise, the experience, the success. So next time you are looking at your bill, try to keep in mind these factors. The best thing you can do to avoid conflict with your lawyer is to just have an open dialogue about what the billing will look like. If you have questions, ask before the billing gets to far down the road. The best relationship between a client and a lawyer is born with good communication.

Should you or a loved one need help with a legal matter, give the experienced Indianapolis lawyers at Banks & Brower a call today at 317.870.0019 or email info@banksbrower.com. We are available 24/7/365.