It is important to understand how legal services and fees are billed. Although the invoices may vary from law firm to law firm, here is some general information that can help you understand your legal invoice.
How do “services” differ from “costs”?
When you pay for legal services, you are paying for the time that your attorney and staff spend on your case. Each person who is billing for their time will have a certain hourly rate. Those rates can usually be found in your contract with your attorney.
When you pay for costs, you are paying for expenses in your case incurred by the firm for you. These costs can include filing fees, copy fees, fees to a process server, or fees for certified mail or delivery, to name a few.
Do All the Case Expenses Appear on the Invoice?
Not necessarily. The expenses that you will see appear on your invoice will generally be ones that the law office pays for you. For instance, the law firm files a petition in the court for you, and pays the filing fee. Then, they bill you for that amount. So, if the court charged the firm $380 to file a petition, and the firm paid it for you, your invoice will show that $380 as a cost in your case.
Generally, your invoice only shows the fees that the firm has paid or will pay on your behalf. If you pay expenses directly to a third party, that will not appear on your bill from the law firm. For instance, if you are involved in an adoption case, and you pay the home study provider directly, that will stay between you and that provider. You will not see that item on your invoice from the law firm, because the law firm is not involved in that payment.
Therefore, you should keep receipts from all of the payments made on your case, and keep a copy of the invoices as well. If you pay a person or facility directly, make sure you keep your receipts and invoices. It can be important for your record keeping. You will want to capture any tax benefit that may be available to you, especially when you are seeking a tax credit on a child adoption. You may also need those receipts if the money you spent is a business expense. The law firm generally has a file destruction process and does not keep records indefinitely. Therefore, you should make your own permanent file for your records as your case is completed.
Charges You Can Expect to See on Your Legal Invoice
For services- you can expect to see entries related to the time spent by the attorney and staff. Some examples include: meetings, calls emails and texts, scanning, drafting, preparing for court, preparing for and attending mediation, legal research, time spent helping you fill out discovery, organizing documents, conferences with the court staff, time spent in hearings in-person or online.
For costs – you can expect to see filing fees, service of process fees, certified and regular mail costs, delivery costs, copy costs, Qualified Domestic Relation Order costs, mediation fee paid on your behalf, apostille fees, fees for supplies (such as external hard drives), and fees for computer assisted legal research.
How to Know What to Expect & How to Help Cut Legal Expenses
- Read and understand the service contract between you and your lawyer when you are hiring.
- Review the service contract and ask whenever you have questions.
- Try to do your part to keep legal fees and costs lower by doing the following:
- Stay in touch with the firm while your case is active. If you move or change contact information, inform your lawyer immediately;
- Reply promptly to the attorney and staff when they contact you;
- Organize your thoughts and questions so that you can deal with any pending issues in fewer (rather than multiple) phone calls or emails;
- Take notes for yourself so you won’t have to schedule multiple appointments or calls for a particular issue;
- Organize and label any paperwork or files that you give to the firm to save time. (this is huge!)
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