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Mastanduno Law Group Feb. 7, 2017

Understanding Legal Fees

People can be hesitant about involving a lawyer when they have a legal problem. They fear that hiring an attorney can be expensive, which is true, but someone with understanding about the law will bring you closer to a resolution. Mastanduno Law Group provides legal advice that will help you succeed and can produce comprehensive legal documents such as wills, prenuptial agreements, and powers of attorney to make you feel settled. We want you to feel comfortable talking to us about your legal needs; we want to understand your life in order to craft solutions right for you. Part of that is figuring out the fee agreement that works for you.

Legal fees are usually not a direct service fee, or a flat fee, but they can be. They vary depending on the client and the case. Lawyers often require a one-time fee if they need to be consulted for something small, like a copyright agreement or providing advice for someone that is opening a new business. However, most lawyers begin with a retainer. A retainer for legal services is an amount of money that serves as the upfront cost for hiring a lawyer. Think of it as a down payment on the future services rendered by the lawyer. If you would like a lawyer to represent you and your case, make sure to talk with them about the retainer during your consultation.

This retainer fee will be kept in a trust account, known as an IOLTA, which is separate from the lawyer’s own money. IOLTA is an acronym for “Interest On Lawyers Trust Account”. This means that the law firm takes fees upon initial representation and then holds them in a special account to keep the client’s money safe. This money is kept only at regulated banks and approved financial institutions. IOLTA’s also have to follow rules established by the U.S. Supreme Court. IOLTA’s are mostly used to generate money for charitable purposes, such as providing pro bono services. In Oregon, the Oregon Law Foundation collects the interest earned on IOLTA accounts and puts it back into pro bono legal services for Oregon residents.

When the retainer fee has been paid by the client, the lawyer will provide services that include research, writing, communication on the phone or by email, and court appearances. At the end of the matter, or the end of the month, a bill will be sent to the client to show the amount of hours the attorney spent working. The type of matter an attorney is assisting you with will change the amount of time needed and the cost; for example, a divorce will cost more than dealing with a one-time document, like a will. The bill will show how much has been deducted from the original retainer, and may show a balance owed if the amount of work required exceeded the retainer. Since all clients and cases vary, the billable hours might fluctuate if more research is necessary, if there was frequent communication with the lawyer, or if more people were involved in the legal situation (such as a contentious divorce). The rate for billable hours is another component of the conversation to have with your attorney before legal service is provided. Clear and honest communication will make for less surprises later.

Before you meet with an attorney, take some time to figure out your goals for their assistance. Try to focus on techniques that would work best for you while your case is being handled. For example, if the larger goal is to get divorced, ask yourself how you want to interact with the lawyer. How much help do you want? Do you want to go to court to solve this matter or see if a few forms can be signed instead? Forming your perspective on the issue will guide lawyers to your intentions and lead to success as you move on from the dispute. A clear idea of what your goals are will also allow an attorney to focus on getting you what you want.


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