by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

I bill cases by one of two systems: (1) on a contingent fee basis, or (2) on an hourly basis.

Personal injury cases are almost always billed on a contingent fee basis. I charge a certain percentage of the total settlement or judgment. The percentage is calculated before expenses are deducted from the recovery. Although I usually advance expenses (including court costs) in contingent fee cases, the client is ultimately responsible for all of the expenses, including court costs. The balance of the recovery after attorneys fees and expenses (including court costs) goes to the client. I charge 33-1/3% if we settle before the lawsuit is filed and 40% if we recover after the lawsuit is filed. Personal injury cases can also be billed on an hourly basis, if the client prefers.

The other billing system I employ is an hourly fee. Under that system I charge for time expended plus costs. I normally send out billing on a monthly basis. My charge for typical business or civil work is $500.00 per hour. I charge paralegal work at $175.00 per hour. If your case is in need of immediate and extensive attention, my charge will probably be higher. I usually require a trust deposit based on the nature of the case. (For more information on this topic, see What Is a Trust Account?) My billing statements show a description of the work done, the date the work was done, and the hourly rate. Some lawyers simply send clients the total hours spent without any detail about what the lawyer (or lawyers) were doing to generate those hours. I believe in spelling out what I did on each date to generate my fee.

Some lawyers have a low hourly rate but charge a minimum fee for certain types of work. For example, they may charge a one-hour minimum for a court appearance regardless of how long that appearance takes. I do not employ that system. I charge for time expended. The bill is in units of time roughly equivalent to tenths of an hour. Thus, if something takes half an hour, I bill .5 units. Some lawyers have one-fourth hour as their minimum billing unit. This means that whether something takes from one minute or fifteen minutes, the client is charged for .25 units. My minimum billing unit is one-tenth of an hour, roughly equivalent to a minimum charge of six minutes of time.

Thus, although $500.00 per hour is not inexpensive, it may not be as expensive as paying $300.00 per hour for a lawyer with a minimum fee schedule and a .25 minimum billing unit.

In both contingent fee and hourly cases, the client is responsible for expenses. Personal injury clients pay expenses out of their portion of the settlement. I usually bill hourly clients for expenses on a monthly basis except for large items, which may be billed directly to them. My contracts give examples of what expenses are. As of the date of this writing, that list includes: court costs, deposition costs, copying and duplication costs, filing fees, travel expenses, long distance telephone expenses, postage, messenger or delivery charges, facsimile charges, investigator's fees, photography expenses, computer research fees, consultant's fees, expert witness fees, and any other disbursements paid or incurred by me. Not every expense is incurred in every case, but the list covers most expenses commonly encountered.

I have gone into detail on this subject in an attempt to prevent any misunderstandings. Lawsuits are expensive. Fees and expenses are difficult to predict accurately and vary with the type of lawsuit, the level of activity, and the time within which we have to get ready. The cheapest lawyer is not necessarily the "best" lawyer nor is the most expensive one. If a lawyer is unwilling to provide you with the details of how the lawyer bills, run don't walk to another lawyer, or steel yourself for some unpleasant surprises.

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