Like car repairs or home improvement projects, legal bills can get out of hand quickly. But it's not completely out of your control. Clients who stay on top of things can usually keep the costs down.
These tips are for hourly fees. Flat rates and contingency fees (where the attorney earns a percentage of what you get, like in an injury case) are different. If you're looking to keep those types of costs down, your best bet is to negotiate the fee upfront because it's not based on time spent.
1. Find the right attorney to handle your case. If your lawyer handles similar cases day in and day out, they are going to be more efficient in handling yours. If your case is a first for them, it's going to take them time to figure it out and possibly do extra research. Try to find the right attorney the first time around. If you have to switch attorneys because the first one wasn't a good fit, you may have wasted money.
2. Research your legal issue. Your attorney should take the time to explain all your options to you and walk you through the procedure for your type of case. If you already know the basics, it can help. For example, if your attorney tells you that the statute of limitations in your case is two years, you should know what that means. Your attorney won't have to spend the time explaining it. You don't need to be your own lawyer - just look into the basic stuff.
3. Be efficient in meetings, conversations and e-mails. Hourly billing is usually based on 6- or 10-minute increments. A simple phone call to your attorney may cost you. If you forget one of your questions and call back the next day, that phone call may cost you, as well. Consolidate your questions. Write them down. The same is true for e-mails and in-person meetings.
4. Save casual conversation for someone else. Along the same lines as #3. Go to a meeting prepared, and stay on track. Conversations about sports, weather, the kids, or anything unrelated to the case is still going to cost you. It's beneficial to have consistent contact with your attorney, as well as a good relationship, but do what you can to make your time count.
5. Understand and review your bills. Request periodic bills from your attorney, and make sure you ask for detailed bills that show how their time was spent. Look over the bills to understand where your money is going. If something doesn't make sense, ask. If you have any concerns, discuss them.
These tips aren't going to magically erase your legal bills. But if you are informed and involved in your legal representation, you can save some money, or at least feel better knowing how your money is being spent.
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