Common questions and answers
about legal expenses.

by Steven R. Pogue
Attorney at Law

We hope that these frequently asked questions and their answers will help you
to understand how you are billed and what you may be able to do to help reduce expenses.

Please remember that these are general answers, and not intended
as specific financial details for your own situation.

Q. What is a retainer?

A. A retainer is a down payment for work to be done in the future. In this office, some retainers are refundable and some are not. Generally, I place your retainer in an account called a Client Trust Account. That account contains only funds belonging to my clients. Then, as I have earned the fees or used the funds for costs related to your case, I withdraw the money to cover it. If there is money left when I get all done, you get that back. If the initial retainer is not enough to cover the entire cost of the work, then you will owe me more.

If the retainer on deposit drops below an amount sufficient to take us into the next stage of the case, it will need to be refreshed before we can continue.

In some cases I simply charge a flat rate for the work. Then, the retainer may be the entire fee, or it may be part now, part later, depending on the nature of the case.

Q. How do you figure my charges?

A. In most cases, I charge by the hour. The time I have to spend working on your case is the time I charge for. It may seem hard that I charge for a telephone call or writing a letter. The fact is, all a lawyer has to sell is his time and his advice. As with everyone, I have only so much time in the day, and since much of what I do is either talking on the telephone or writing letters, I would soon be broke if I did not charge for my time.
The cost of time is one reason I try to keep communications to the essentials and not just chat endlessly about minuscule details. If someone really wants to spend my time and their money talking for hours about some minor aspect of their personal situation, that is okay. I perfectly understand the need to vent frustration. But it can be expensive for the clients, and often they would feel just as good talking to a friend for free.

Q. How much will it cost, total?

A. Some cases cost more than others. That is why it is difficult to predict the total cost of a case from the beginning. It is like asking "how much water will it take to fill this hole?" when I cannot see the bottom of the hole. I can give ballpark estimates based on experience, but unless I have stated a flat rate, the estimate may vary widely from the result. An estimate on a simple, uncontested, friendly divorce goes out the window if the parties then proceed to make it into a war, and cannot agree on what day of the week it was.

In any hourly matter, total fees will depend on whether settlement can be reached without trial, how much cooperation can be obtained from the opposition in effecting an early resolution, and client's willingness to consider offers of settlement.

Q. What if the other side should pay my fees?

A. If your matter is a family law case or, in some kinds of contract litigation, we may be able to obtain an order from the court that the other side pay your fees. But that is a matter between them and you. If they do not pay me, my client will have to pay me. If you pay me and then the other side also pays, I will refund anything that is extra. I do not look to collecting on a fee order from the opposition for my payment. I look to my client.

Q. How about payment plans?

A. I understand that in many situations the full amount of a bill in certain month may be extremely difficult to pay all at once. I am willing to work out a payment plan so long as it involves some payment each month in an amount that is realistically related to the total bill so that it can be paid off in a reasonable time. (Not a dollar a month for 1,000 months). We may be able to tailor it to your situation. Just ask, we'll talk about it. BUT YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE ARRANGEMENTS. Do not just ignore the statements.

Q. Do you bill for time your staff spends working on my case?

A. Generally, yes. It depends on the situation. Much of what we do that is routine clerical or office management tasks is not billed. Calling to make an appointment with you, sending out a reminder of a court date, copying a letter I have received from or sent to opposing counsel, we do not bill for.
When my staff works on tasks that are a substantive part of your case, then that time is billed at the rates set forth in your fee agreement. Such tasks include, for example,

  • Preparing Discovery and Responses to Discovery
  • Researching matters in voluminous files.
  • Preparing family law Declarations of Disclosure.
  • Preparing Income and Expense Declarations for presentation to the court.
  • Chasing down necessary information from third parties.
  • Any other task that needs to be done that is specific to your case and does not require the hands-on attention of an attorney.

There are two benefits to doing it this way.

First, it is impossible for me to do it all myself. Second, you are far better off having my staff do clerical tasks and calling people and arranging things, etc., at their hourly rates than having an attorney do it at an attorney's hourly rate.

It is somewhat comparable to being at a hospital. The nurse takes your temperature and gets you in the bed. The orderly pushes you into the operating room. The surgeon comes in and takes out your appendix. The nurse cleans up and someone else wheels you out. If the surgeon were to do all the preliminary and follow up work, she could do very little surgery and everything would cost three times as much.

Q. How can I keep the costs down?

A. While the cost of litigation is almost always high, there are things you can do to have it not cost any more than necessary. Here are some of the most useful ideas:

  • Be aware of the relationship between time and money. Telling the same sad story 35 times costs 35 times as much as telling it once.
  • Give us good, accurate information. Following up to correct incomplete, inaccurate or poorly recorded information is one of the largest contributors to increasing the cost of litigation.
  • Choose your battles. I have seen people spend $2,000 arguing over which one gets a $200 sofa. Some things may just not be important enough to justify the cost.
  • Keep us informed with your current information, such as telephone number and address.
  • Keep copies of the things that we send you in an orderly file or binder, all in one place. Much time is lost in checking on things that are already there.

Nothing can make the legal process cheap. Together, we can work to keep as much of your money as possible in your pocket instead of mine.


© 2005 Steven R. Pogue
All Rights Reserved

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Pogue Calvert, LLP
373 Meridian Avenue, Suite B
San Jose, CA 95126

Located in San Jose, California, the Law Offices of Pogue Calvert, LLP represent clients in the communities of Alameda, Belmont, Burlingame,
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