When Do You Charge Me?

After some years in this solo law practice thing, I’ve learned one of the things clients most want to know is, “When is the meter running?” My representation agreement says I can give you a flat fee or we can work hourly (your choice), and when that happens, I charge in tenth of an hour increments. But do I really charge people by the minute for everything I do?

I’m a solo. A true solo, as in, no staff, just me and my brain taking on the world. This means I do a lot of things for which clients do not want to be directly charged. I spent 3 hours yesterday doing admin preparation for an estate plan signing. The clients had already paid me $3,000 in hourly fees (it was a complicated charitable trust plan structure—most people’s plans are far less!), and they might well have felt sort of cheated if I had charged them my hourly rate to skim through documents, make sure I had the most current version, print the right number of copies, arrange the attendance of witnesses, etc. I threw in the drafting of the closing letter for free, even though it was a summary of custom advice for their next steps. I’ve answered their phone calls and emails a number of times without charging them.

I could set a lower hourly rate for administrative work and keep track of it separately, but to me, it makes sense to incorporate into my fee structure enough margin that I can simply write “N/C” after noting a block of time worked on a client’s matter, if it’s warranted. And since my overhead is unusually low, I can do that and still keep my rates lower than the average Twin Cities hourly attorney’s fee.

So when will I charge you? When the phone call goes over 15 minutes, I’m probably going to mark it down and charge you. When the initial consultation includes legal advice, I’ll charge you after that first 30 minutes. If I’m reading law specifically related to your business or estate or probate legal questions, I’m going to charge you. If I’m drafting documents for you other than a closing letter, I’m almost certainly going to charge you. So to sum up: if there’s a significant investment of my time handling a legal need specific to you, I will charge you.

I do custom work, and that requires involved clients who are willing to ask questions and disclose facts that might pose a challenge. I’m not selling pieces of paper in a nice binder labeled “Buy-Sell” or “Corporate Minutes” or “Estate Plan,” but specific legal advice on which I expect clients to rely to their advantage. So if you need information, call me, knowing that I don’t start the meter each time I click on your message or take your call.

Until then, do remember that legal blog posts are useful, but they don’t constitute the precise advice I give after we form an attorney-client relationship. Don’t take action on what I or any other attorney posting on the internet says, until you’ve had a chance to talk to one of us and get advice on your specific situation.

A. E. King, J.D.
Attorney at Law
Shoreview, MN