Rates and Fees

I understand your greatest fear in hiring me is how much it’s going to cost.  To lessen that concern, I provide this information about how my fees are structured.  Fees for each matter vary depending on specific issues and facts; the following should provide some basis for understanding how you are billed.

PROFESSIONAL CONSIDERATIONS

Common sense – and the Texas rules of professional conduct – require fees be reasonable.  The rules list relevant factors in determining the fee, including the time involved and the difficulty of the issue, the experience of the attorney, etc.  Also, an attorney must provide competent representation and explain matters sufficiently to permit you to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

These requirements are met in three ways.  First, my practice is limited to those areas of law in which I have competence.  If you need assistance beyond my capability I will refer you to capable counsel!

Second, I provide a brief initial telephone consultation without charge.  This enables me to learn more quickly what you need and whether I can help you.  We might then engage in an “in person” consultation during which we discuss the likely legal and financial considerations so you can make an “informed decision” whether to proceed further. In litigation matters, the fee for this consultation is $200 in advance; for non-litigation matters, the fee is $75.00 in advance.

By the way, if you cannot drive downtown and taxi or bus is not appropriate, we can meet at your location (whether at home, hospital or elsewhere). Depending on the particular matter and practice area, this service is provided at no extra charge.

Third, if there is mutual agreement to proceed, the scope of the representation is documented in a written engagement agreement, along with the fee basis (Fixed Fee or Hourly) and any special requirements of the matter.

Clearly, the person approving payment of my fees is either spending his/her own money or is directly accountable for his/her company’s profitability.  My invoices contain the same level of detail expected if the case required court approval of attorneys’ fees.  You should know what you are paying for, and you should feel you are receiving value.

FEE BASIS

Fixed (Flat) Fee Charges

Fixed fee charges add predictability to legal costs.  You may feel better served, for example, if you know in advance that every Deed will cost the same regardless of the number of phone calls, faxes, or e-mails it takes to get it signed, filed and recorded. Ditto for other types of repetitive or transactional work.

I can often provide simple estate planning, deeds, simple probates and guardianship, contract/document review, etc., at a fixed fee.  Even more complicated projects can be billed at a fixed fee.  For example, we might agree to a flat fee on a task-by-task or stage-by-stage basis within a single project.

After we visit about your specific needs, I am happy to quote a fixed fee, or an estimate, prior to beginning any work so that you have an accurate idea of how much you will be charged.

Hourly Charges

For contested litigation matters and more complex projects not appropriate for fixed fee charges (unpredictable scope), hourly rates apply.  Current rates range from $210 to $275 per hour for attorney time depending on the particular matter and practice area.  Paralegal work is billed at $120 per hour.  Clerical work is billed at $75 per hour if appropriate.

Capped Fee

Where the scope of the engagement is somewhat unpredictable, we can negotiate a “capped-fee.”  With this fee arrangement the client pays an hourly rate, but we agree the total bill will not exceed the capped amount.

For cases with a moderately unpredictable scope of engagement, we can agree to use a “soft cap” based on specific assumptions.  For example, if the assumptions turn out wrong, we can agree to adjust the fees accordingly.

Contingency Fee

My practice areas rarely lend themselves to contingency fees.  However, they might be appropriate in certain, special, cases.

BILLING PROCESS

Advance Deposit (Retainer)

New fixed fee clients are asked to pay their non-refundable fixed fee in advance.  New hourly clients are asked to submit a refundable Advance Deposit into an IOLTA trust account.  The Advance Deposit is typically equal to the fees and costs likely to be incurred during a two-month period, will be applied to your unpaid invoices at the time the invoice is generated, and must be replenished as needed.  At the conclusion of the representation, any remaining balance will be returned to you.

Time and Expenses

All time is charged in minimum increments of 0.1 hours (6 minutes) including letters and phone calls.  Travel time in Harris County and within 40 miles of my office is not billed.  Travel time outside that radius is regarded as a shared responsibility and you are billed for half of any such travel time required for court appearances, depositions and the like.

Out of pocket expenses are extra, as are fees for court costs, some database research, and extraordinary postage or copy work, etc. This is one way to keep fees lower – the billing of client expenses is done on a “pass through” basis – all costs disbursed on clients’ behalf are billed at actual cost; mileage is billed at the IRS allowed rate.

Payment with PayPal or Credit Card

Bernard Law Office responded to requests from clients to offer alternative payment methods.  While law firms historically require cash “retainers” to pay for legal services, many clients do not have the cash resources to make such up-front payments.  As a result, I offer the option to pay for legal services or the Advance Deposit using a credit card or PayPal account, if the client pays the 3% PayPal fee. I am not a miser, or cheapskate – I’m an economist; this is yet another way to keep everyone’s fees lower. Some clients say the ability to use a credit card has allowed them to utilize legal services when they were not otherwise able to do so, and other clients appreciated the benefit of accruing airline miles or credit card points when paying for legal services.  This option is available at the “Pay Online” page under the “Contact” tab.