This is the first in a four part series where we will discuss attorney fees. Today’s post explains how we arrive at our hourly rate. The next will cover figuring lawyers’ net income, charging a set fee or contingent fee, paying a retainer, paying the lawyer’s bill and more. We hope this answers many common questions.
“A lawyer’s stock-in-trade is time and advice,” Abraham Lincoln said. In some limited circumstances it is possible for lawyers to charge a set fee for a particular item of work, but the majority of matters they handle are charged on a time basis. In other words, lawyers keep track of the amount of time spent on each item of work and charge an hourly rate for their time. They arrive at the client’s bill by multiplying this hourly rate by the number of hours spent on that client’s behalf. SETTING THE HOURLY RATE While Lincoln’s definition of the lawyer’s stock-in-trade is still accurate, several other factors beside the lawyer’s investment of time must be considered in determining rates for legal services. In addition to the large amount of money spent by our firm for the purchase and remodeling of the building which houses our law offices, annually we must spend money on its upkeep and maintenance. Our office maintains several computers which have multiple software applications, a relatively complex telephone system, a law library, a fairly elaborate photocopying/scanning/faxing/sorting machine, a number of electronic typewriters, a postage machine, a broad-based filing system, and other related items. The remodeled three-story Victorian home which houses the lawyers, the staff, and the above-mentioned equipment, also contains conference facilities. Most legal matters require the services of a lawyer – and sometimes more than one lawyer – the secretarial staff and a legal assistant, and the use of various items of equipment. In calculating a client’s bill, secretarial time is not taken into account, but is included in the lawyer’s hourly rate. In other words, the money paid lawyers for their time covers the salaries of the secretarial staff, the operating costs of the various items of office equipment, and the use of office space for the conduct of business. There are certain expenses, however, which are not covered thusly, but are figured on an itemized basis, over and above the hourly-rate charge. These items include extensive photocopying work, postage for mailings, and travel expenses that involve considerable driving and/or overnight hotel accommodations. The charge for the work of legal assistants is also computed at an hourly rate, but this rate is considerably less than that for lawyers.