A comprehensive written fee agreement between lawyer
and client should do the following:
Define the scope of your services. Expressly
state in the agreement the legal matter in which you
are representing the client. Be specific.
Define the timing of your services. Make
your services contingent on cooperation and payment
from the client. If you want payment before commencing
work, clearly state to the client that your services
start after the client has paid the advance or the
flat fee. State that your services may cease if the
client fails or ceases to pay your bill.
Explain the fee arrangement. For your client's
edification, explain the type of fee arrangement you
State examples of the services to be billed to
the client. For clients who are billed on an hourly
rate basis, explain that they will be billed for your
time on all aspects of the case. Cite several types
of billable services, such as depositions, phone calls,
drafting correspondence, pleadings and trial preparation.
State the amount of your minimum time increment: one-tenth
of an hour, one-quarter of an hour or the like.
Explain the client's obligation for costs.
There are two types of costs often billed to the client:
costs incurred in your office, such as copying charges,
postage fees and long-distance phone charges; and
costs billed by outside vendors, such as court filing
fees, messenger services and process fees. Some lawyers
pay all costs and pass them along in their bills to
clients. Other lawyers charge clients for the in-office
costs and have the clients directly pay the costs
incurred by outside entities. Still other lawyers
require funds in advance from clients to pay for costs
incurred during the course of the matter. Decide how
you want to do it and clearly say so in your agreement.
Explain your billing practices. Let clients
know how often they can expect to receive your bill
(preferably monthly), then make sure you stick to
the promised schedule. And explain when payment is
Allow your client time to question your bill.
Let clients know in the fee agreement that they can
discuss the bill with you at any time.
Consider a fee arbitration provision. More
and more lawyers and clients are using arbitration
to resolve fee disputes. You may want to consider
such a provision in your agreement.