What Exactly are “Legal Fees”?

Everyone knows what legal fees are, right?  Well, not necessarily.  Here are some examples of charges you may see on an invoice from your attorney. Which of the following are “legal fees” and which are expenses?

  1. A charge for the amount of time your lawyer spent in court.
  2. A flat fee for your attorney’s review of a package of documents.
  3. A fee for an office meeting or other communication between you and your lawyer.
  4. A charge for a filing fee to the court.
  5. A charge for certified copies of your file.
  6. A hourly charge for paralegal or legal assistants helping you organize and answer discovery requests.
  7. A fee that your attorney paid to someone else (investigator, accountant, expert witness) on your behalf.
  8. A fee due to an attorney ad litem or amicus attorney.

The answer is that items 1, 2, 3 and 6 are legal fees that you would see on an invoice.  Items 4, 5, and 7 are expenses (costs) because they are paid by the firm on your behalf and for your benefit.  Item 8 is a legal fee as well, but it may be required to be paid directly to the attorney ad litem or amicus attorney by you.

Therefore, when you talk to an attorney or review a contract with an attorney, be aware that legal fees and expenses are two different things. If you want to get a full picture of how much a case may cost, you should ask about expenses too, not just legal fees.  The consultation is a good place for the attorney to share this information with you, and a good time for you to ask specific questions about charges and what to expect.




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