I recently worked with a client to assist her in negotiating a settlement of her legal bill for her divorce. Her lawyers were unscrupulous and I have not run into billing practices like this with any other lawyer clients have worked with. They over charged for just about everything; from the amount of time in meetings to telephone calls and even for the billing for the paralegal. My detailed review found over $32,000 of errors on a $90,000 bill!
I do not believe that situations like this are common but I think there are some very basic things you can do to make sure you are paying the correct amount for the services you receive.
Have a conversation with your lawyer and clarify that you will not be charged the standard .1 or .2 of an hour for non-legal work such as an email stating “Got you email I will call you at 4 to discuss”. This is a fair ask in that there is no legal content. Most good lawyers will not charge for this but watch out as the person inputting the billings may just count the number of emails and charge accordingly.
With multiple emails that go back and forth in a few minutes of each other it is also fair to ask to be charged the amount of time rather than the number of emails multiplied by the minimum “correspondence” charge. My client had 4 emails going back and forth and was charged for .8 of an hour at $425 an hour (.2 on an hour per correspondence) even through all 4 emails occurred within 4 minutes.
Also watch your telephone calls and make sure the times match. Get your phone records and sort by the telephone number and check.
Telephone calls and emails are a slippery slope because they happen frequently and usually without much thought as to the cost associated with them. My client was charged $85 for an email to her lawyer “I am here where ru?” sent while she was waiting for her lawyer at the court house. So be careful, and collect your questions until you have a few then send them or make the call.
Another way to manage your legal bill is to be mindful of the interrogatories that are sent to the other side and how yours are responded to. Ask your lawyer how to respond to them (format and length of response) and then do as much of it as you can. If you can type it up, so much the better, as it will be easier for your lawyer to review. Your Case Information Statement (NJ Courts financial disclosure document) is also another area that you can save legal dollars on. Sit with a Divorce Consultant or financial adviser and fill it out yourself.
If you have a high legal bill it may be worth taking a close look to see if your bill is accurate. If your case is ongoing and you suspect errors do this now as it will be easier to negotiate and potentially change billing practices if there is still future work to be done. Once you find errors, provide your evidence to your lawyer and ask for a reduction in the bill. If they do not agree to the reductions you can go to attorney fee arbitration rather than take them to court but I hope it does not come to that.