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How to Save on Attorney's Fees

You can save
Your attorney is interested in helping you get competent legal assistance at a reasonable fee. The billing that you receive from your attorney is usually based, at least in part, upon his or her hourly rate and upon the amount of time spent on your legal work. You can help to keep those costs as low as possible by following these guidelines for working with your lawyer.

Save on phone calls
Most attorneys bill a minimum amount for each phone call. You can save on charges for telephone calls in a number of ways:

  • Save up information and give it to your attorney in a single call instead of a series of calls.
  • Make notes about matters you wish to discuss and have your files and background information handy for convenient reference during your conversation.
  • To prevent a series of calls back and forth at inconvenient times or when you or your attorney are out, call the attorney’s secretary and arrange a mutually convenient time for a telephone appointment. When you schedule the appointment, tell the secretary what you wish to discuss so the appropriate files can be given to the attorney for review before you call.

To get the most out of a telephone conversation with your attorney, follow these four simple steps:

  • Jot down the facts that you want to give your attorney.
  • List conclusions, ideas or suggestions that you want to make.
  • List questions or problems about which you want the attorney’s answers, opinions or advice.
  • During the call, make notes of the answers or advice you are given so you will have them for reference.

Save by writing
You can save even more by writing your attorney a note or a memo instead of calling. In it you can list dates and times at which the lawyer may call you to respond. Your attorney can read your communication, organize the appropriate opinions or advice, and call you with specific answers or information. Because less time is involved than in telephone conversations, your billing will be less.

One of the reasons you save on the time you are billed when you write instead of telephone is because your attorney does not have to charge for making detailed notes of your conversation. Instead, he or she can refer to the questions you posed in your letter.

When you write to your attorney, consider these tips to save additional time and money.

  • Use a separate page for information about each different legal matter. This makes it easier for the law office to take the necessary actions in a minimum amount of time and to file the information appropriately.
  • Number the paragraphs. Then when you and your attorney discuss the matter, you’ll find it easier to locate what you’re talking about.
  • When you prepare a letter or memo about a new legal matter for your attorney, first find out from the lawyer’s secretary what information he or she will need. Then you can gather the correct data.

Save on conferences
When you meet at your attorney’s office, you may be billed for each attorney present at your conference. So, it makes sense to plan ahead to make the best use of conference time. Here are some ways to cut conference costs:

  • Have a clear objective in mind. Your attorney needs to know what issues are of particular significance to you. Although your attorney can advise you of the legal effect and significance of various aspects of your legal matter, it will save time and fees if you make your concerns clear at the outset.
  • Check with the attorney’s secretary ahead of time and find out what will be needed. Write out the necessary information and get whatever documents you’ll need before the meeting.
  • Make two copies of everything so you and your attorney can refer to them. On copies, you can underline, redline or highlight important parts for your attorney’s attention.
  • In many cases, you know your attorney will ask the question, "What happened?" Save time and money by writing down all the facts about your case in the order that they happened. Begin each paragraph with the date and time of the event, followed by a description of what took place.
  • Stick to business. At the hourly rate you are charged for conferences, you can’t afford to socialize. Your legal matters are what are of interest to you and your attorney. Your lawyer will appreciate it if you are prepared for the conference, and you will save money.
  • Bring prospective witnesses. If you know witnesses who can be of help, ask them to attend a conference with your attorney so he or she can talk with you and the witnesses together. Make arrangements for other witnesses who are unable to attend to be interviewed by your attorney at another time.
  • Submit sample forms or documents. If your attorney is simply preparing legal documents for you, you can save time if you find copies of forms similar to the kind you want and give them to the attorney. In advance, write your ideas about terms, conditions or statements that should be considered when the document is prepared.

Save by using one attorney
When you retain several attorneys or law firms to represent you in different legal matters, you may incur greater legal expense if only because certain information must be duplicated. You’ll probably save money if you have a single personal or business attorney who is competent and honest.

When you do require assistance in a special area, your attorney can advise you and you can authorize the necessary expertise. Chances are that your attorney can negotiate a more favorable fee arrangement with the specialist than you could.

Save by discussing fees in advance
At the time you begin a new legal matter, go over the proposed fee arrangement with your attorney. Experience has shown that the client who shows interest in the fee is more likely to pay it on a timely basis, so your lawyer should be happy to talk about his charges. When you discuss fees, talk about ways to help reduce the attorney’s time and look for items that you, your accountant or someone else can take care of at less cost.

Review your billings and save
Ask for detailed billings for each matter your attorney handles. When you receive your statement, examine it for clues on how to save. You may discover, for instance, that you have been telephoning your attorney more often than necessary. You can save by calling less frequently or by sending written notes or memos.

When you check your statement, you may find an error or a charge that you wish to question. Bring the items in question to the attention of your attorney’s secretary as soon as possible and ask that the lawyer review them. Or you may return the billing with the charges that you are questioning circled. Typographical errors and clerical mistakes do happen and your attorney will want to correct any errors.

Determine if fees are tax deductible
Under some circumstances, legal fees may be deductible. Fees incurred as a result of a business transaction, to generate or preserve income, to preserve existing business, or for tax advice or tax litigation may be deductible. In other instances the fees may result in an increase in the tax basis of property. Consult with your tax advisor to determine whether the fees are deductible and make sure that your attorney properly apportions the fees between deductible and non-deductible services.

Save by being interested
It’s only natural to respond more quickly to people who are interested and who show it. So, tell your attorney that you are vitally concerned with the progress of your case. If you haven’t gotten a status report, call the secretary and ask for one. If you are asked to do something in connection with your legal matter, do it as rapidly and accurately as possible.

Remember that other clients seek your attorney’s time. The more interest you show, the more likely you are to get more rapid responses on your legal cases.

Get to know your attorney
Many lawyers find it stimulating to pursue social relationships and friendships with the people who are their clients. If you want to talk about non-business topics of common interest, make arrangements to meet, perhaps over a meal or cocktails.

You can exchange ideas and learn about each other as human beings. By establishing a closer relationship, you’ll learn to speak each other’s language and communication will become more effective between you.

Your attorney is human and is motivated by such things as your appreciation and your thanks for a job well done.

Save with preventive law
You’ve heard about preventive maintenance for machines and preventive medicine is widely discussed in the healthcare field. You can help your attorney practice "preventive law" by holding a conference to discuss your overall "legal health" and by setting in motion the necessary actions to get your affairs in order. Once you have done that, a regular "legal checkup" should help to avert future problems and reduce your expenses in the long run.

If you have any questions about how to save on lawyer’s fees in your individual case, write or call your lawyer.

Adapted, with the author’s permission, from How To Save On Attorney’s Fees, Copyright 1980, John F. Goodson and David O. Wiley.

Special Note - This information has been issued to inform and not to advise. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of writing. The statements are general and individual facts in any given situation may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. You should always seek advice from an attorney if any questions arise. This document is intended as a public service and is not an endorsement of any attorney or law firm.