Analyzing attorney’s fees: When is too much too much?

Clients need to have a discussion on fees before they sign the contract, then work with their lawyer to get the job done efficiently.

Credit Ronny Richert / Flickr Creative Commons
Credit Ronny Richert / Flickr Creative Commons

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2015 –  As may be expected, there are hundreds of articles and blogs, written by attorneys, attempting to explain, and then justify the cost of representation. The phrase “attorney’s fees” still evokes anger.

The perception is that attorneys charge too much.

Sam Glover, an attorney, says in his article Why Are Attorneys So Expensive? I’ll Tell You Why, that fees are high because there is a complete level of “obligation” − lawyers are expensive because they do everything humanly possible to provide the hoped-for outcome to the client, including the worrying.

Read Also:  The Ethical Lawyer:  Application of ethics and malpractice

Glover says clients get a lot for their money – they get someone who will lose sleep worrying about the client’s legal problem so the client can finally get some rest and go about his or her life.

Glover’s reasoning was praised and attacked by many in the comments section following his article.

John said:

This is such bull crap. Which lawyer on here actually has had a dream about their client’s legal problems? Which one said I want to go to law school to help people? I doubt any. Most if not all said let me go to law school for prestige, for money, for a nice title.

Josh, a lawyer, answered John:

As an owner of a private practice, the amount of time I spend prepping and dreaming about a case far exceeds what I bill my clients. Although I can’t speak for every attorney, I do know there are many of “my kind” out there…and we’re usually not the ones making the big bucks. We do it for the love, not the prestige.

Another commenter:

Nice try. I’m an IT Director for a large law firm. I deal with the same stress levels and have had similar nightmares about missing deadlines, system outages, etc. I deal with it 7 days a week 365 days a year. My iPhone is never out of reach and I am expected to answer it any time of the day or night. I’ve left my child’s birthday party, a Christmas party and countless other random social gatherings in order to address an “urgent” problem.

In another article, Richard Quadrino, a disability attorney, asks, how much would you charge if you were dealing with other people’s problems? I get worn out by my own problems. He says fighting takes work, and that much of an attorney’s work consists of fighting with judges and other lawyers.

Read Also: The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers

Laura Kresicih, in her article The Truth Behind Attorney Fees, provides several reasons for what attorneys charge.

Attorney’s fees may seem expensive at first glance, but there are a number of reasons why they charge the rates they do. Lawyers see people in some of the most stressful times of life, often with issues of vital importance hinging on the outcome of a case.

She says lawyers fix and prevent problems. She says the job comes with lots of hours and extra stress. About divorce lawyers particularly, she says:

It costs money to get married; why wouldn’t it to get un-married?  When people get married they pay for the wedding, and for a house and a car.  Then later they often pay for hospital bills to safely deliver a child.  After so much expense, it’s easy to see why divorce would be so much trouble.  A lawyer has to sort out the division of these things.  Looking at it this way, the attorney’s fees make sense.  Why would you expect your divorce to be cheap if your wedding wasn’t?

The perception of fees is often not about the fees themselves. The issue is about trust. The perception is that attorneys are “padding” the bill when fees are being charged on an hourly basis.

One attorney writes:

The real issue is lack of accountability and cross interests. The client’s interest is in getting a win at the least cost. The attorney, working on the client’s behalf, is interested in winning and making the most money. So from the start there are cross issues. You can call the opposing attorney to discuss a matter and there is little motivation to keep it short and simple. There is little the parties can do to cost-contain and the attorneys can feel good about their attention to detail representing their client.

It isn’t the hourly rate that’s the issue, it’s the abuse/containment of hours, justified or not, that makes litigation so expensive.

Another attorney’s analysis points to market forces of supply and demand.

Any product or service is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, no more and no less. If nobody can offer anything close to what we provide, then we’ll continue to charge a lot for what we do, and rightly so. If someone can offer the same or similar services as lawyers, though, that changes the equation. It’s no coincidence that legal fees already suffer in areas where competitive or substitute services are available, while they stay elevated in areas where, either through regulatory edict or subject-matter complexity, lawyers are the only game in town. Many lawyers already charge less than they feel their services are worth because of these kinds of competitive pressures. That might not be fair, but markets usually aren’t.

For many, attorneys are used in times of extreme problems where stress levels are at their highest. The fees, and the results of the work of the attorney are highly scrutinized.

Divorce, child custody, criminal charges, DWI, litigation over a debt, eviction, foreclosure and fights over inheritance are a few of the high-stress situations where attorney’s fees seemingly only add to the problems.

During the representation in these types of high-stress matters, many will look at both the attorney and the fees being charged as negatives. It is human nature. In the midst of a divorce everything is looked at as being a problem — beginning with the spouse and the other attorney (who, of course, is driving up the fees on purpose).

Sam Glover writes:

After a client signs a retainer with me, I look them in the eye and tell them “Okay, you don’t have to worry about this any more. Your problems are now my problems.” It is just a thing I say, but it is a true thing I say. My clients go home and sleep soundly for the first time in weeks or months. I go home and think about the legal issues all evening. At night I dream about my client’s case. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and pull up the scheduling order on my phone, convinced I blew a deadline. When I am at the playground with my kids, I check my email in case I get something from opposing counsel or the court. When I go out to dinner with my wife, I talk about hearings and depositions.

Josh writes:

If you don’t know a lawyer who has lost sleep worrying about a client’s case, you don’t know any lawyers. I could take my car to 3 different mechanics, get three different reports of the work it needs, and three prices that aren’t even close. There are good and bad people in every field; it’s pretty juvenile to be this hateful because you had a bad experience with your divorce or custody lawyer. You’ve never had a bad experience with your mechanic? Your kid’s teacher? A cop? A doctor or a nurse? A contractor? Grow up.

Attorneys are paid, typically, in one of three ways:

Hourly rates, flat fees, and contingent fees.

Hourly rates are the most common. The attorney gets paid an agreed-upon rate for the hours worked until the matter is resolved.

The experience of the attorney is the primary factor used in determining the rate. Cheaper is not necessarily better. A more expensive attorney with a great deal of experience may be able to handle and resolve a complicated problem more quickly.

 Read more from Paul Samakow – Leading Edge Legal Advice

Flat fees are usually charged when the legal matter is simple and well defined. These matters typically include such things as the preparation of a Will, an uncontested divorce, a bankruptcy filing, or an appearance in court on a criminal or traffic matter.

Contingency fees are most often seen in injury cases, such as car accidents and medical malpractice cases. The attorney takes no fee from the client up-front, but gets a percentage of the money once recovered either from a settlement or a court verdict.

Clients should ask and demand a full discussion of fees with an attorney before beginning the relationship. A written contract should be produced that details the entirety of the fees to be charged.

In considering hiring an attorney, regarding the fees, clients should:

  • Prepare an agenda prior to the first meeting;
  • Compare rates;
  • Negotiate rates;
  • Choose an attorney that is an expert in the specific area of law in which assistance is needed.

When attorney’s fees are charged hourly, a client should:

  • Cooperate once the case has begun – a delay by the client causes the attorney extra work;
  • Take notes of every telephone conference and meeting, allowing for review of the important issues and responses, thereby eliminating repetitive contacts with the attorney;
  • Ask clarifying questions when information is not completely understood, thereby eliminating repetitive conversations with the attorney;
  • Keep all documents, eliminating the need for asking for copies;
  • Rely on the attorney for legal advice, not emotional support.

A popular story is the one about the guy who needed a plumber because his water heater was broken. The plumber came in and spent 12 seconds looking at it, took out his screwdriver and turned a screw. He then told the guy it was fixed, and the bill was $150.00. The guy almost fainted and told the plumber that fee equaled $45,000.00 per hour, and that not even a lawyer would charge anywhere near that amount.

The plumber asked the guy if a lawyer would know that it was a screw that needed turning, and then which screw to turn.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website

His new book “Who Will Pay My Auto Accident Bills?, The Most Comprehensive Nationwide Auto Accident Resolution Book, Ever” can be reviewed on and can be ordered there, or obtained directly on Amazon: Click here to order

Mr. Samakow’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, El Textarudo, has become nationally recognized. Please visit the website and “like” the concept on the Facebook page

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