Understanding your Legal Fees and Payment Options

February 8, 2016 - Categories: Legal Articles

At Access Legal Care, we pride ourselves on providing lower-fees and affordable payment plans, so that our clients save 40-60% compared to the average Michigan attorney or law firm. 
 
One way we are affordable is by providing you with as little or as much assistance as you need, either through a limited-scope (aka "unbundled") service agreement, or a full-representation service agreement. Pricing for both types of arrangements is explained below.
 
Limited-scope vs. Full-representation
 
If we can help you on your legal matter without giving full-representation services, we prefer to help you with just the limited-scope services that you need for your particular case. "Limited Scope" means that we just do those services that you actually need, while you will do some services on your own. For example, we may prepare and file the paperwork, serve the other party, and get you a court date; but you may decide to represent yourself in court.
 
For limited-scope services, we usually charge straightforward flat rates. 

See our list of flat-rate services and prices.
 
However, when a client needs us to appear at one or more hearings, or negotiate with an opposing attorney, then we may need to enter into a "Full Representation" agreement. For full-representation cases, we primarily charge hourly for work, and flat rates for hearings, but then you pay our fees via a payment plan.
 
Actual Fees for Full-Representation
 
Like other attorneys, our actual FEES are fairly straightforward, although much more affordable (see Updated Fee Schedule). We charge a low flat-rate per non-evidentiary hearing, actual costs over $15.00 per month for case expenses like transcript costs, and an affordable hourly rate (billed in 3 minute increments) for everything else. Everything else includes mediation and trials, which are billed hourly, but with a minimum rate per day. Those are our actual fees. All work is billed at these fees (and shared with the client online in the online account).

Payments
 
All actual fees above are paid as follows:

1. Flat fee Services: One single flat-fee, paid up-front.
 
2. Pay-as-you-go Services: Payments made periodically, in advance of next phase of service. Price depends on service; custom-quoted by attorney.
 
3. Full Representation Services: 
  • Initial Payments: Client pays a low initial retainer payment (40-60% less than typical attorney retainer payments). 
  • Weekly Payments: After the initial retainer payments are made, the client pays a weekly payment (automatically deducted from client's bank account) until all fees are paid.
  • Extra Motion Fee Payments, if needed*: Any time that the client or opposing party files an additional motion throughout the case, the client must pay a one-time "Extra Motion Fee" to help offset those costs. *
  • Case Expenses over $15.00 per month**: Although most case expenses (postage, printing, copying, paper, etc) are included at no cost to client, the client must nevertheless pre-pay any case expenses over $15.00 in any given month.**
 
All payments above are deposited into a Trust account in your name, and paid to us only when we earn them at our actual fees.
 
The up-front and weekly payment plan deposits
 
The up-front retainers and weekly payments are intended to cover OUR normal legal fees incurred in a normal case, including the costs of your initial complaint or motion or answer to the opposing party's complaint or motion.
 
End of Case:
 
If there is a surplus at the end of the case, we refund it. If there is a deficit, then we can keep going at the weekly rate, or the client can pay the final balance within 30 days for a 25% discount.
 
*Extra Motion Fees: Extra deposits for additional motions
 
In addition to the initial complaint or motion, a client or opposing party may want to file one or more additional motions throughout the case. For example, a motion for violation of orders; a motion for temporary child support or spousal support; a motion for attorney's fees; etc. These motions, which are typically optional for the party filing them, create significantly more legal fees very quickly, because every motion requires paperwork, filing, filing fees, and a hearing. Therefore, we simply require an additional "Motion Fee" deposit towards that additional motion, so that you do not go too far in a deficit on your weekly payment plan.
 
**Case Expenses over $15.00 per month
 
In addition to our legal fees, a case may require the payment of fees to third parties, or out-of-pocket expenses. Transcripts or depositions, for example, can cost easily over $200, depending on how long the deposition or hearing is. A client rarely needs transcripts in any case. But if they are needed, and if we must pay a 3rd party, then that is something that the client will have to pre-pay for.

Likewise, if discovery costs like subpoena fees, or depositions, etc (again, if needed; they are rare for most cases) are incurred, we can't simply pay for those out your trust account, because that means that we can't pay ourselves for our actual legal fees.
 
Therefore, we require payment for those up front, separate from the weekly payment plan.
 
There is no set rate for those things. We will always communicate if and when they arise; many of them are completely optional, at your choice, and are merely strategic options.

Finally, if there are copy costs or postage costs over $15 each in any given month, then we would need pre-payment for those. It is rare, but if we must buy binders and print hundreds of pages of color exhibits for a trial, we cannot afford to take those expenses out of your weekly payment plan.
 
What affects how many hours are needed in a case?
 
As far as the number of hours in a case, these vary by case and depend on:

1. How often the client has questions for the attorney, wants to talk to the attorney about the case, wants to complain about the opposing party's behavior, wants to file new motions, etc.
2. How much the opposing party's attorney has questions for your attorney, wants to talk to your attorney about the case, wants to complain to your attorney about your behavior, wants to file new motions, etc.
3. How much negotiation goes on in the case.
4. How much discovery the parties want to conduct to get information (how many subpoena's, depositions, requests for interrogatories, requests for documents, requests for admissions, and then working with you to ANSWER the opposing party's discovery requests, subpoenas, deposistions, etc).
5. Whether the judge orders mediation.
6. Whether the party's cannot come to agreement and therefore push the case all the way to trial.
7. How many facts must be written about in various motions, trial briefs, etc.
 
What affects how many hearings there are in a case?
 
The number of hearings in a case depends on how many motions, how many times a judge adjourns a case (after we've already showed up for the initial hearing -- does not happen often), if there are objections to referee recommendations, and the base number of hearings in any case, which is usually at least two.
 
The possibility of a trial depends completely on whether the parties can come to a settlement agreement earlier in the case, or if they both refuse to compromise and therefore the judge has no choice but to order a trial.
 
Conclusion
 
All-in-all, our legal fees should be 40-60% less expensive than a typical attorney for the same work. Plus, we offer helpful payment plans, and the ability to get a 25% discount off of your final balance (if any) at the end of the case. We also refund any unearned fees.
 
The best way to lower legal fees is to be willing to compromise on some areas and work to find a settlement agreement that both sides can live with, while keeping non-mandatory motions at a minimum.