Ethically a reasonable attorney fee is one which a similar attorney with a similar background would charge for a similar case. This isn’t really a very good answer because if you’re reading this you probably don’t know another reasonable attorney with a similar background. Some factors to look at in determining whether your attorney fees are reasonable:
- How much experience does my attorney have? More experienced attorneys charge more. Ask about hourly rates up front so you know what is customary for your area and whether the attorney you have called charges more because of his/her experience.
- How specialized is my attorney? More specialized attorneys who practice in only one area of the law charge more because they are true experts at what they do. Decide whether you really need an expert or whether a general practitioner will do.
- How complicated is my case? Has my case required numerous court appearances or have we agreed on everything which has required just drafting of settlement documents? Does my case involve an unusual or unprecedented area of the law? These types of cases invariably cost more because of the legal research involved.
- How often do I contact my lawyer? If you constantly email, call and have appointments with your lawyer you will have a higher fee bill than someone else who limits contact by sending fewer emails or saving up all questions for one appointment/one email at a time.
- Has my lawyer been required to travel? Cases which require travel also involve time you will have to pay to have your lawyer travel. Try to hire local counsel so you’re not paying for travel time and expenses.
- Have I demanded emergency service? If you have made demands for turnaround of documents in a very short period of time or your case has required your attorney to drop everything else to handle time sensitive matters in your case you should expect to be billed for that and to pay more than those who haven’t placed demands on his/her attorney.
When in doubt ask your attorney about why the fees are so high and ask him/her to explain it to you. Not only do you have a right to know but you are legally entitled to this information.