The Billable Hour
Law firms have different methods of charging for their services. Some may offer flat fees, some rely on contingent fees where they are only compensated for their work if they win, but the most common way law firms charge is by the billable hour. What is universal among law firms though, is a fee agreement outlining the terms of their retention. As a client, it is important to understand the fee agreement and understand your financial obligations under that agreement when retaining an attorney. Fee agreements usually outline billing practices of each firm and break down the minimum billing which, depending on the firm, could be by a tenth of an hour, a quarter hour or some other portion of an hour for activities done on a file.
Due to the unpredictable nature of family law disputes, our firm bills hourly. Furthermore, the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit contingent fees in family law matters. Our attorney’s bill for the time they spend on a client’s matter, broken down to the tenth of an hour. That may be a telephone call, an email, research or drafting documents and attending meetings, mediations, and court dates. It is important to realize though, that a telephone call is not just the time we take to pick up the telephone speaking with a client or other attorney. It is also the time we take to gather your file, perhaps open the calendar, review any notes, grab and take notes on a note pad, add comments to the file after the telephone call ends or give direction to staff about the next steps in a file. This is similar for all communications, meetings, and appearances we make. We do spend significant time on client matters outside of the client view, which clients may not realize. We bill for all of this so that we can stay in business and continue helping our clients.
While it may sound harsh, it is also important to know that there are many things that we do not bill for in our firm. We do not bill for the initial consultation with potential clients, we do not bill for new client calls that can be 5 minutes or a full hour, we don’t bill for the time we spend imputing time, running ideas past our teammates, 10 emails in one day from one client who is stressed to the max, calming a person down when they are having a break down, and a whole host of other things. We focus on family law and we get it, we do not view our relationships with our clients as simple business transactions, we understand the difficult life transitions our clients are experiencing and our primary concern is helping them. We typically only bill a fraction of the time we spend helping you gather your strength to get through another day. It’s not unusual for lawyers to not bill for all of their time. One legal software company analyzed billing data among its users and found that lawyers were billing only 28% of their available work hours! Our attorneys each strive to do 5 billable hours per day in order to strike a balance between helping our clients and still meeting our other responsibilities. We often work a 9 to 10 hour days to be present for our clients and so that we can meet our goals. With all the time spent on things that we do not bill for, 5 hours takes real work.
People are often under the misconception that the hourly rate we charge is strictly profit and goes directly into our pockets. That is not true; we have support staff, office expenses, rent, overhead and a whole host of bills of our own that must be paid long before we are paid. We do try to be fair and we do try to understand what the cost is for each person. Unfortunately, we also can’t afford to work for free. It is very difficult work absorbing the emotional turmoil of numerous clients while supporting and assisting them through such a personally trying and challenging time that is one of the most difficult and significant life changes they will go experience in their entire lives.
If you want a firm that is devoted to doing the best they can do for their clients and billing is what we believe is a reasonable manner, please contact Spindler and Associates. We have years of experience and know the laws and court procedures for Wayne, Oakland, Livingston, Genesee and Washtenaw Counties where our attorneys have practiced for years. Contact Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000 to schedule a consultation. The Oakland County law office is conveniently located in Milford, Michigan. Our service area includes these communities: Milford, Waterford, Walled Lake, Commerce, Highland, Hartland, White Lake, Commerce, South Lyon, Linden, New Hudson, Wixom, Holly, Fenton, Grand Blanc and many more.