How Do I Control My Legal Fees and Costs in an Hourly Case?

Decide what you want.

This seems simple. But, many people are unfocused in litigation. If prosecuting the case, you need to prove liability and damages. If defending, you need to disprove at least one of these items. Every action taken by the lawyer should be directed towards one of these goals. Nothing should be done by rote. You never want to spend money to harass the other side. You do not need to explore all options, just the productive ones.

Avoid Magical Thinking

Just because you think something ought to be, does not make it so. Analyzing a matter be starting with “I am right” gets you nothing. The correct question is will a judge or jury will agree with you?

Make sure your lawyer has a plan and that you agree with it.

The plan should cover a reasonable period of time. It should be detailed for the near future and less detailed but still coherent for the medium and long range. The plan should include estimates of costs for each action, including attorney’s time and expenses. The plan should set reasonable deadlines. Spend some time going over the plan with the lawyer so you know what is going to happen. “Just win,” is not a plan!

Insist on being informed

If the lawyer does not return your calls in a reasonable time, fire the lawyer. If important letters are not relayed, fire the lawyer. If you are not told about court appearances, depositions or the like, fire the lawyer.
Insist on periodic reports

You want to be sure that the lawyer is following the plan. You need to know how well the strategy is going. You need to know if you need to adjust the strategy.

When you get bills examine them closely

Look for routine things that you are being over billed for, such as propounding (form) interrogatories, or requests to produce. Look for fixed charges that seem unreasonable, like one hour to prepare a one page letter. Look for charges that are lumped together so that you cannot really tell what happened during the time billed. Look for “R&R” (receipt and review) charges — are they reasonable?

Do not bother the lawyer, unless you want to pay for the lawyer’s time

If you call frequently and ask questions that require a lot of research, the bills will soar. If you try to second guess your lawyer, the bills will soar.

Do not create extra work

As an example, if your lawyer sends you interrogatories to answer in rough, try to do so. Do not call to complain. Do not ask for a long meeting to have you hand held answering detailed questions that the lawyer cannot help you with (such as, list your addresses for the last ten years).

Pay your bills timely

If the lawyer needs to dun you for payment of bills, you will be billed for the time it takes to do so.

Clifford M. Miller
Florida Bar Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer
Miller Law Offices
3760 20th Street
Vero Beach FL 32960-2464