Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

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Castamere
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Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:57 am

I recently hired an attorney to review an existing prenup drafted by my fiancee's attorney. So, he was to represent my own interests.

First we did an initial consult meeting which I paid for on-site. We established the intent of the prenup and figured out a good change to simplify the document. My fiancee's attorney did all of the work to make this change.

I wanted to proceed with a review of the document and of the changes we decided to ask of my fiancee's attorney after our initial consult meeting. I wanted to be sure we could list my attorney as representing me in the document.

Based on my familiarity with the prenup from my own review it was a fairly small job; I estimated it to take 1-2 hours beyond what we had already accomplished in the initial consult meeting.

I requested in writing that he not spend more than an hour or so on the review without checking in with me to let me know more time was required and to ask me if I wanted more time spent on the review. I also requested not using a retainer and just paying hourly, which he agreed to. I specifically mentioned that I was uncomfortable with a retainer because I felt he could bill whatever he wished within the amount of the retainer and return very little of it to me and that I would be in a tough spot. He assured me he wasn't going to waste my money on minor nitpicks with the document.

I assume he is taking my wishes into account while working on this document based on our written communication while negotiating an agreement to his further services and based on how price-sensitive he knew I was when we talked about billing during the initial consult.

When I get the bill I am shocked to find nearly 6 hours billed beyond the 1 hour I'd already paid for with the initial consult meeting.

I reminded him that I only asked for an hour or so of review beyond which he could let me know it would take more time and referred to my email I had sent to negotiate further services. He offered to take a little bit of time off the bill (but less than an hour's worth). I countered that he had plenty of information up front to tell me that it would take closer to the number of hours billed if it even truly took that long, also mentioned the fact that he could have told me after getting an hour or so into the review that it was shaping up to take longer (as I asked him to do as well). I then offered to pay for three hours as a compromise. Waiting to hear back now though I may call.

What recourse do I have if they refuse my compromise?

Should I simply pay for the three hours I feel is a fair compromise and tell them they can send the rest to collections if they wish and then dispute that with the credit agency?

Is it possible they'll try to sue me to recoup the remaining money they feel I owe? The agreement for legal services I signed doesn't go into detail on that point, but does say "In the event that it is necessary for us to intervene or take other action to secure payment for fees and expenses incurred in connection with our representation of you, you agree to pay all fees and costs associated with the intervention or other action taken."
Last edited by Castamere on Sat Sep 16, 2017 12:41 am, edited 2 times in total.

GottaGetThisGoing
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by GottaGetThisGoing » Fri Sep 15, 2017 11:37 pm

Here's what I would do. I'd write him a letter and send him a check via certified mail:

"Dear Attorney Horse's Ass,"

I instructed you to put no more than 2 hours of work into this. You elected to disregard my instructions without consulting me.

Attached is a check for 2 hours of work.

Sincerely,

Client"

Yes he can sue you. But you told him not to do more work and he did. I don't see how a court is going to side with him, but who knows.

Cruise
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Cruise » Sat Sep 16, 2017 1:14 am

Attorneys in most states must have you sign an engagement agreement, outlining the scope of the attorney's work and charges. Did you sign one? If so, did the attorney violate it?

Assuming that your written directives about a time ceiling was transmitted before the attorney commenced work on your case, it appears that you have ironclad proof that the attorney ventured into territory that could lead to sanctions by the State Bar/Disciplinary Counsel.

I'd suggest that you write the attorney a certified letter asking him to change his charge to your previous ceiling, and if he fails to do so, that you will file a complaint with the State Bar/Disciplinary Counsel.

The above suggestions assumes that you do not want to maintain friendly relations with this attorney.

chevca
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by chevca » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:32 am

Hire another lawyer to review the bill from this lawyer. :happy

I had to hire a real estate attorney once to help me with a situation. They charged for everything, an email here, a phone call there, and all seemed to be called "an hour"... whether it was two line email, or a 5 minute phone call.

Do they review all that too, or print it off, file it, and all? I don't know, maybe there's more to the little stuff than I know.

Either way, I was pleased with their service and they accomplished for me what I needed. So, I paid what they charged.

Were you pleased with the service? If he wasn't done reviewing it in the hour or two YOU estimated it would take, did you want him to just stop there and leave it incomplete? Depending on your answers here, I might say, take the lower bill he's offering and pay it.

petulant
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by petulant » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:41 am

If you explicitly told him in writing no more than an hour without your permission and you've got a bill for six hours, you need to tell him he failed to follow your instructions and that if he doesn't drop the bill to two hours you're going to the bar disciplinary agency.

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arcticpineapplecorp.
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by arcticpineapplecorp. » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:47 am

He must be a very slow reader. I would suggest he take an Evelyn Wood course. :happy Sorry, no other advice beyond what's been mentioned. Good luck fighting this and let us know how it goes.
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dbr
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dbr » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 am

If the time limit you specified included the language "or so" and the 1-2 hour estimate is your estimate and not his in writing, you may have little to stand on. His defense is that you wanted a job done and he did that job responsibly. A practical question is how much money is actually involved here?

I'll grant you it would have been a courtesy to have advised you along the way, but also 2 hours or 6 hours, it is not a very big case anyway. I don't suppose the prenup forbids you from asking your fiance to ante up for the legal costs on your side being as she is the one initiating the prenup and paying most of the costs in the first place. In the larger picture my advice would be to shrug it off and move on. You have too much positive to look forward to.

chevca
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by chevca » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:54 am

Yes, what a way to start off a marriage, huh?

ResearchMed
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by ResearchMed » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:57 am

dbr wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 am
If the time limit you specified included the language "or so" and the 1-2 hour estimate is your estimate and not his in writing, you may have little to stand on. His defense is that you wanted a job done and he did that job responsibly. A practical question is how much money is actually involved here?

I'll grant you it would have been a courtesy to have advised you along the way, but also 2 hours or 6 hours, it is not a very big case anyway. I don't suppose the prenup forbids you from asking your fiance to ante up for the legal costs on your side being as she is the one initiating the prenup and paying most of the costs in the first place. In the larger picture my advice would be to shrug it off and move on. You have too much positive to look forward to.
I think asking fiancee to help pay for fiance's attorney could cause trouble in the future in case of marital problems.
Idea is for each party to have own attorney and pay for own attorney, lest there later be some hint/claim that "both attorneys" were allied with the one paying both, even if only partially for the other's.

RM
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dbr
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dbr » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:03 am

ResearchMed wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:57 am
dbr wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 am
If the time limit you specified included the language "or so" and the 1-2 hour estimate is your estimate and not his in writing, you may have little to stand on. His defense is that you wanted a job done and he did that job responsibly. A practical question is how much money is actually involved here?

I'll grant you it would have been a courtesy to have advised you along the way, but also 2 hours or 6 hours, it is not a very big case anyway. I don't suppose the prenup forbids you from asking your fiance to ante up for the legal costs on your side being as she is the one initiating the prenup and paying most of the costs in the first place. In the larger picture my advice would be to shrug it off and move on. You have too much positive to look forward to.
I think asking fiancee to help pay for fiance's attorney could cause trouble in the future in case of marital problems.
Idea is for each party to have own attorney and pay for own attorney, lest there later be some hint/claim that "both attorneys" were allied with the one paying both, even if only partially for the other's.

RM
Yeah, you are right about that. I think it leaves it to our OP to just move on. I would.

freebeer
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by freebeer » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:09 am

dbr wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 am
If the time limit you specified included the language "or so" and the 1-2 hour estimate is your estimate and not his in writing, you may have little to stand on. His defense is that you wanted a job done and he did that job responsibly...
Yes we here on this forum don't know if this was a complex prenup with significant changes and your attorney felt his review needed to for example research precedents in your state. So 6 hours may have been spent even if perhaps suboptimal. Or if this was outright gouging. Overall 7 hours inc. consult for a prenup doesn't seem outside the bounds of reasonableness.

TIAX
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by TIAX » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am

Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.

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dm200
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dm200 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:27 am

Wow! Six hours of "work"!!

In my experience years ago dealing with estate planning with an attorney that billed by the hour, some (or much) of the billed hours were for "research" of some things that, it seemed to me, should have been already known by such an attorney.

Was there anything of "value" to you in this six hours of "work"??

Rick Rock
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Rick Rock » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:28 am

Ahhh, young love...

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arcticpineapplecorp.
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by arcticpineapplecorp. » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:47 am

One other thing. I wouldn't have said "An hour or so." You know you're dealing with a lawyer, right? What's the legal definition of "or so"? In your mind it was 2 hours. In his mind it was several hours. If you didn't want to pay more than 2 hours you should have specified you were only going to pay "Up to 2 hours, but no more. No exceptions". No loopholes there, right? I'm sure our lawyer bogleheads will find one.
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tibbitts
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by tibbitts » Sat Sep 16, 2017 10:12 am

What recourse do I have if they refuse my compromise?
It sounds like there's no point in speculating until you hear back. It might take 24hrs to get a reply (weekdays), so give it that and then call.

supalong52
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by supalong52 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:39 pm

This sounds like a case of bad client management. I don't deal with individual clients, but if I did, I would avoid those who tried to limit my time to an hour. Why even bother taking you on as a client given the professional liability risks involved in prenups?

You said:
Based on my familiarity with the prenup from my own review it was a fairly small job; I estimated it to take 1-2 hours beyond what we had already accomplished in the initial consult meeting.
Until you see their edits, you have no idea how much time might have gone into that work. 6 hours is nothing. How much of your retainer does 6 hours eat up?

Anyway, like I said earlier, it's a bad case of client management. You were in the wrong for trying to set a one hour clock on them. They were in the wrong for not trying to give you a better sense of how much time it would take and give you updates on their progress.

To give some perspective, when my wife and I did our prenup, I wrote the first draft of the prenup based on a very solid template (I am not a family attorney) so our attorneys were essentially both there to review it. It still cost us $10K combined to finalize the thing.

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dm200
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dm200 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:42 pm

It still cost us $10K combined to finalize the thing.
Wow!!!

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TomatoTomahto
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by TomatoTomahto » Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:57 pm

. . . and I thought that I had married up :oops:

NotWhoYouThink
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by NotWhoYouThink » Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:59 pm

If you don't like paying for legal services you should probably stick with NOLO. You understand everything, just do it yourself.

If you are going to hire an attorney for a pretty important job, expect him to take the job seriously. Demand that he take the job seriously.

Maybe you haven't worked with attorneys a lot. They tend to analyze every word and clause in a document, and consider how it could someday be used or interpreted. If they aren't very good and thorough at that they aren't good attorneys. It's frustrating and annoying to work with them when you just need a quick review, but it is often very valuable to get their input.

I don't know what assets you or your fiancé are bringing into this marriage to justify a prenup that will override state law on how assets will be divided in case of divorce, but if one of you has enough to make this document worthwhile than it is probably worth paying to get the job done right.

I've been in the 2 comma club for years and just this year broke down and started paying Southwest Airlines the $15 per flight for auto check-in. And even I'm not too cheap to pay for legal services.

junior
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by junior » Sat Sep 16, 2017 3:14 pm

ResearchMed wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:57 am
dbr wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:52 am
If the time limit you specified included the language "or so" and the 1-2 hour estimate is your estimate and not his in writing, you may have little to stand on. His defense is that you wanted a job done and he did that job responsibly. A practical question is how much money is actually involved here?

I'll grant you it would have been a courtesy to have advised you along the way, but also 2 hours or 6 hours, it is not a very big case anyway. I don't suppose the prenup forbids you from asking your fiance to ante up for the legal costs on your side being as she is the one initiating the prenup and paying most of the costs in the first place. In the larger picture my advice would be to shrug it off and move on. You have too much positive to look forward to.
I think asking fiancee to help pay for fiance's attorney could cause trouble in the future in case of marital problems.
Idea is for each party to have own attorney and pay for own attorney, lest there later be some hint/claim that "both attorneys" were allied with the one paying both, even if only partially for the other's.

RM
Is your concern based on any legal precedent? The attorney is ethically obligated to work for the client identified in the representation agreement not whoever is paying. Furthermore fiancee just has to give OP money in advance to pay the attorney, the OP can then pay the bill directly.

Castamere
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm

TIAX wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am
Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.
In hindsight I wish my written language in my email to negotiate further services from him after the initial consult was very exact about a ceiling on hours, but here is what I wrote:

"Please let me know if we can move forward on an hourly basis instead of on a $2500 retainer based on this information. Since I feel we will be fairly close to a final document we both agree upon and are ready to sign I would prefer that we do what we can with just an hour or so more of your billable hours. After that time <fiancee's name> and I will likely consider this agreement satisfactory unless we are made aware of any specific, significant defects."

My mistake for trusting him and not being specific enough. I suppose this language isn't strong enough to stop him from wiggling out of it and charging for more than I felt I was asking for. He still should have clued me into how much time this was actually going to take him but chose to leave me in the dark all the way until I got the bill for ~6 hours.

A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
Last edited by Castamere on Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:11 pm, edited 2 times in total.

Castamere
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:03 pm

NotWhoYouThink wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:59 pm
If you don't like paying for legal services you should probably stick with NOLO. You understand everything, just do it yourself.

If you are going to hire an attorney for a pretty important job, expect him to take the job seriously. Demand that he take the job seriously.

Maybe you haven't worked with attorneys a lot. They tend to analyze every word and clause in a document, and consider how it could someday be used or interpreted. If they aren't very good and thorough at that they aren't good attorneys. It's frustrating and annoying to work with them when you just need a quick review, but it is often very valuable to get their input.

I don't know what assets you or your fiancé are bringing into this marriage to justify a prenup that will override state law on how assets will be divided in case of divorce, but if one of you has enough to make this document worthwhile than it is probably worth paying to get the job done right.

I've been in the 2 comma club for years and just this year broke down and started paying Southwest Airlines the $15 per flight for auto check-in. And even I'm not too cheap to pay for legal services.
I agree about getting it done right even if it does take six hours. But that doesn't excuse him not being above board at all about telling me what this would cost either before I agreed to his services or by checking in with me after he had gotten an hour or so into the review as I had requested. He had enough detail to clue me in to where this was going long before sending me the bill after the meter had run up so high.

Gill
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Gill » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:27 pm

Did you really think you could have an attorney make an independent review of this agreement with "an hour or so" of his time? Most attorneys would have told you to take a hike with this restriction. As pointed out earlier his professional liability is not worth having you as a client.
Gill

chevca
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by chevca » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:32 pm

Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm
A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
Good luck getting anyone to take your case. What if the job is half done when the "exact cap" is reached? You just want it back half done?

Sorry to say, but I think you're being quite unreasonable about this. If you somehow know exactly how long a job is going to take and what needs to be done, why are you hiring anyone to do it for you?

EddyB
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by EddyB » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:37 pm

Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm
TIAX wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am
Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.
In hindsight I wish my written language in my email to negotiate further services from him after the initial consult was very exact about a ceiling on hours, but here is what I wrote:

"Please let me know if we can move forward on an hourly basis instead of on a $2500 retainer based on this information. Since I feel we will be fairly close to a final document we both agree upon and are ready to sign I would prefer that we do what we can with just an hour or so more of your billable hours. After that time <fiancee's name> and I will likely consider this agreement satisfactory unless we are made aware of any specific, significant defects."

My mistake for trusting him and not being specific enough. I suppose this language isn't strong enough to stop him from wiggling out of it and charging for more than I felt I was asking for. He still should have clued me into how much time this was actually going to take him but chose to leave me in the dark all the way until I got the bill for ~6 hours.

A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
In fairness to the attorney, I don't think this language is remotely as clear as you suggested in your original post.

I'm curious, on what basis did you think an hour of further review would be sufficient?

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dm200
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dm200 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:44 pm

EddyB wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:37 pm
Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm
TIAX wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am
Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.
In hindsight I wish my written language in my email to negotiate further services from him after the initial consult was very exact about a ceiling on hours, but here is what I wrote:
"Please let me know if we can move forward on an hourly basis instead of on a $2500 retainer based on this information. Since I feel we will be fairly close to a final document we both agree upon and are ready to sign I would prefer that we do what we can with just an hour or so more of your billable hours. After that time <fiancee's name> and I will likely consider this agreement satisfactory unless we are made aware of any specific, significant defects."
My mistake for trusting him and not being specific enough. I suppose this language isn't strong enough to stop him from wiggling out of it and charging for more than I felt I was asking for. He still should have clued me into how much time this was actually going to take him but chose to leave me in the dark all the way until I got the bill for ~6 hours.
A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
In fairness to the attorney, I don't think this language is remotely as clear as you suggested in your original post.
I'm curious, on what basis did you think an hour of further review would be sufficient?
I agree that these words do not convey (to this layperson) a limit of one more hour of billable time.

Broken Man 1999
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Broken Man 1999 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:49 pm

Setting aside the 2 hours vs 6 hours issue, were significant changes made to the document?

IOW did the lawyer provide real service to you that had you known in advance of his billing you would have felt it was money well spent?

Have you examined the document he reviewed, with his recommendations?

Would you have seriously had him stop in the review before he finished? What value would you have received in that case? A partially reviewed very important document seems no better than the original document.

What would you have done if the lawyer had called you and said, "I've done your 2 hours so here is your partially reviewed document."

Broken Man 1999
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azurekep
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by azurekep » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:11 pm

NotWhoYouThink wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:59 pm

Maybe you haven't worked with attorneys a lot. They tend to analyze every word and clause in a document, and consider how it could someday be used or interpreted. If they aren't very good and thorough at that they aren't good attorneys. It's frustrating and annoying to work with them when you just need a quick review, but it is often very valuable to get their input.
I would have thought much of what a lawyer did in a prenup was boilerplate. IOW, using boilerplate language that has stood the test of time over a variety of frequently encountered prenup situations.

It would be just the unique aspects of a particular case that would merit unusual attention by a lawyer (according to my naive thinking).

That's not to say the process should have taken an hour, but I'd think a prenup would be one of the simpler cases a lawyer would handle.

Now if the lawyer were reviewing a prenup that someone else had written -- either another lawyer or the client -- the process might actually take longer than if being done from scratch. That's because lawyers are familiar with their own verbiage (i.e., boilerplate) and would have to carefully interpret someone else's verbiage looking for any pitfalls and traps.

Castamere
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:15 pm

EddyB wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 6:37 pm
Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm
TIAX wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am
Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.
In hindsight I wish my written language in my email to negotiate further services from him after the initial consult was very exact about a ceiling on hours, but here is what I wrote:

"Please let me know if we can move forward on an hourly basis instead of on a $2500 retainer based on this information. Since I feel we will be fairly close to a final document we both agree upon and are ready to sign I would prefer that we do what we can with just an hour or so more of your billable hours. After that time <fiancee's name> and I will likely consider this agreement satisfactory unless we are made aware of any specific, significant defects."

My mistake for trusting him and not being specific enough. I suppose this language isn't strong enough to stop him from wiggling out of it and charging for more than I felt I was asking for. He still should have clued me into how much time this was actually going to take him but chose to leave me in the dark all the way until I got the bill for ~6 hours.

A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
In fairness to the attorney, I don't think this language is remotely as clear as you suggested in your original post.

I'm curious, on what basis did you think an hour of further review would be sufficient?
I have never spoken to an attorney before in my life -- probably clear to many posters here given my story.

It would have been much appreciated if he were able to fill me in on his own expectations for this sort of thing. I'm sure he could tell they were off base for the work he does when I mentioned the bit about only wanting an hour or so of review. He was familiar enough with my case before agreeing to do further work to have done so. He also knew I was very much not comfortable with using a retainer due to the fact that the number of hours actually worked was a mystery to me and I would simply have to trust him to bill me fairly and return the unused retainer to me. Why not take a few minutes to explain reasonable expectations to me instead of shocking me with the final bill? In the initial consult meeting I should have pressed him for a ballpark estimate even after he said he had little idea of how long it would take until he had done the work. In my optimistic thinking it was still 1-2 hours and I had zero expectation that he would bill for 6.

Also, my fiancee had found $500 flat fee offers from other attorneys for a prenup review. In my own review I found the document and the changes from my fiancee's attorney to be fairly easy to understand without even being a lawyer myself, so I figured an experienced attorney could get through it in far less than six hours. I also did not expect us to go through several more revisions with the document and we did not do so, it was simply a single round of review and his suggested edits/concerns.

Castamere
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:24 pm

azurekep wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:11 pm
NotWhoYouThink wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:59 pm

Maybe you haven't worked with attorneys a lot. They tend to analyze every word and clause in a document, and consider how it could someday be used or interpreted. If they aren't very good and thorough at that they aren't good attorneys. It's frustrating and annoying to work with them when you just need a quick review, but it is often very valuable to get their input.
I would have thought much of what a lawyer did in a prenup was boilerplate. IOW, using boilerplate language that has stood the test of time over a variety of frequently encountered prenup situations.

It would be just the unique aspects of a particular case that would merit unusual attention by a lawyer (according to my naive thinking).

That's not to say the process should have taken an hour, but I'd think a prenup would be one of the simpler cases a lawyer would handle.

Now if the lawyer were reviewing a prenup that someone else had written -- either another lawyer or the client -- the process might actually take longer than if being done from scratch. That's because lawyers are familiar with their own verbiage (i.e., boilerplate) and would have to carefully interpret someone else's verbiage looking for any pitfalls and traps.
You're getting at another reason why I thought it would not take six hours. In our initial consult meeting he also led me to believe that a lot of the language in prenups is very familiar to him, and that these are built from templates and then modified (which I am sure was the case for our prenup).

The only wrinkle really was that we wanted community property to be built up for five years and then after that additional income would be separate property. This did not seem terribly complex to me. Many of his suggested edits were simply sections that failed to mention that the section does not come into effect until five years from the date of marriage. Important? Yes. Complex/requiring a lot of time to figure out? Not really. He was suggesting edits/concerns, not drafting the final language.

Bfwolf
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Bfwolf » Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:42 pm

OP, I think you have every reason to be peeved.

Your request was clear. "An hour or so" is not six hours. No way no how.

The attorney should have either:

1) (Preferred solution) Let you know upfront that this would take way more than an hour or that he couldn't project how long it would take, and ask how you would like to handle.

2) Stopped after an hour, when he knew there was no way he'd be able to come close to honoring your request, and provide you a progress report.

Do you think the work the attorney did should, in hindsight, reasonable have taken 6 hours? If so, pay the bill and go away happy. If not, I think paying for 3 hours is more than reasonable.

renue74
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by renue74 » Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:33 pm

I once got charged $5,000 for a law firm to review 20 page business agreement. When I got the bill, I was dizzy and used a few choice words. It was a big law firm and I had used them before for a technology acquisition I was going through a few years ago....but I didn't have an ongoing relationship with them.

I complained and the bill went down to $2,000. Still a very large sum for my small business, but it was a learning lesson for me.

Reach out and explain your position.

Cruise
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Cruise » Sun Sep 17, 2017 1:59 am

Did the attorney have you sign an engagement agreement? If so, what did it say?

beehappy
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by beehappy » Sun Sep 17, 2017 2:52 am

Castamere wrote:
Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:57 am
I recently hired an attorney to review an existing prenup drafted by my fiancee's attorney. So, he was to represent my own interests.

First we did an initial consult meeting which I paid for on-site. We established the intent of the prenup and figured out a good change to simplify the document. My fiancee's attorney did all of the work to make this change.

I wanted to proceed with a review of the document and of the changes we decided to ask of my fiancee's attorney after our initial consult meeting. I wanted to be sure we could list my attorney as representing me in the document.

Based on my familiarity with the prenup from my own review it was a fairly small job; I estimated it to take 1-2 hours beyond what we had already accomplished in the initial consult meeting.

I requested in writing that he not spend more than an hour or so on the review without checking in with me to let me know more time was required and to ask me if I wanted more time spent on the review. I also requested not using a retainer and just paying hourly, which he agreed to. I specifically mentioned that I was uncomfortable with a retainer because I felt he could bill whatever he wished within the amount of the retainer and return very little of it to me and that I would be in a tough spot. He assured me he wasn't going to waste my money on minor nitpicks with the document.

I assume he is taking my wishes into account while working on this document based on our written communication while negotiating an agreement to his further services and based on how price-sensitive he knew I was when we talked about billing during the initial consult.

When I get the bill I am shocked to find nearly 6 hours billed beyond the 1 hour I'd already paid for with the initial consult meeting.

I reminded him that I only asked for an hour or so of review beyond which he could let me know it would take more time and referred to my email I had sent to negotiate further services. He offered to take a little bit of time off the bill (but less than an hour's worth). I countered that he had plenty of information up front to tell me that it would take closer to the number of hours billed if it even truly took that long, also mentioned the fact that he could have told me after getting an hour or so into the review that it was shaping up to take longer (as I asked him to do as well). I then offered to pay for three hours as a compromise. Waiting to hear back now though I may call.

What recourse do I have if they refuse my compromise?

Should I simply pay for the three hours I feel is a fair compromise and tell them they can send the rest to collections if they wish and then dispute that with the credit agency?

Is it possible they'll try to sue me to recoup the remaining money they feel I owe? The agreement for legal services I signed doesn't go into detail on that point, but does say "In the event that it is necessary for us to intervene or take other action to secure payment for fees and expenses incurred in connection with our representation of you, you agree to pay all fees and costs associated with the intervention or other action taken."
Lawyers cut their time for many reasons. Not following client instructions is one of them. If your instructions were clear and he failed to follow them, don't pay for the excess. There's a big difference between 1 hour and 6 hours. It would be unwise for the lawyer to try to sue you in this situation...suing clients isn't exactly great for business, especially over 3 hours of pay when he hasn't followed your instructions.

TheHouse7
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by TheHouse7 » Sun Sep 17, 2017 4:28 am

I've dealt with the same situation, but in my case I walked away with paying 2.5 hours and no finalized pre nuptial :annoyed
"PSX will always go up 20%, why invest in anything else?!" -Father-in-law early retired.

chevca
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by chevca » Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:22 am

OP, plenty of valid questions have been asked and you're avoiding them. Did you sign an engagement agreement.... we're you satisfied with the services... did you want it back if it was only half done after an hour or so... if you know what needed to be done and how long it would take, why go to a lawyer? Feel free to address some of those.

bsteiner
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Location: NYC/NJ/FL

Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by bsteiner » Sun Sep 17, 2017 8:05 am

Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 5:58 pm
TIAX wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 9:18 am
Paste us your time limit instructions and the attorney's estimate in email or the engagement letter.
In hindsight I wish my written language in my email to negotiate further services from him after the initial consult was very exact about a ceiling on hours, but here is what I wrote:

"Please let me know if we can move forward on an hourly basis instead of on a $2500 retainer based on this information. Since I feel we will be fairly close to a final document we both agree upon and are ready to sign I would prefer that we do what we can with just an hour or so more of your billable hours. After that time <fiancee's name> and I will likely consider this agreement satisfactory unless we are made aware of any specific, significant defects."

My mistake for trusting him and not being specific enough. I suppose this language isn't strong enough to stop him from wiggling out of it and charging for more than I felt I was asking for. He still should have clued me into how much time this was actually going to take him but chose to leave me in the dark all the way until I got the bill for ~6 hours.

A tough lesson no matter how this turns out really. I'm not going to be contracting anyone's services where they have the chance to just sort of bill me whatever they feel like billing me. Going to have it all in writing what my exact cap is in dollar/hour amounts.
It's hard to know without having met you or seen the draft, but from what you wrote, I think the lawyer should have declined the matter. It would be difficult to do it in 3 hours (including the hour or so for the initial meeting. There's a good chance that a client who doesn't want to write a check for $2,500 at the beginning won't want to pay at the end.

mptfan
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by mptfan » Sun Sep 17, 2017 8:28 am

chevca wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:22 am
OP, plenty of valid questions have been asked and you're avoiding them. Did you sign an engagement agreement.... we're you satisfied with the services... did you want it back if it was only half done after an hour or so... if you know what needed to be done and how long it would take, why go to a lawyer? Feel free to address some of those.
+1000

There are too many unanswered questions here to give an informed answer. Here is another one... when was the email sent to the lawyer?

Consider this scenario...the OP meets with the lawyer on Tuesday morning, provides instructions about what he wants done, then writes the email to the lawyer on Wednesday afternoon...but in the meantime, the lawyer already did 6 hours of work BEFORE he got the email from the client. So wouldn't it be important to know when the email was sent?

Too many people are jumping to answer the question without having all of the facts, in my opinion.
I eat risk for breakfast. :)

Leemiller
Posts: 872
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Leemiller » Sun Sep 17, 2017 8:49 am

Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:24 pm
azurekep wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:11 pm
NotWhoYouThink wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:59 pm

Maybe you haven't worked with attorneys a lot. They tend to analyze every word and clause in a document, and consider how it could someday be used or interpreted. If they aren't very good and thorough at that they aren't good attorneys. It's frustrating and annoying to work with them when you just need a quick review, but it is often very valuable to get their input.
I would have thought much of what a lawyer did in a prenup was boilerplate. IOW, using boilerplate language that has stood the test of time over a variety of frequently encountered prenup situations.

It would be just the unique aspects of a particular case that would merit unusual attention by a lawyer (according to my naive thinking).

That's not to say the process should have taken an hour, but I'd think a prenup would be one of the simpler cases a lawyer would handle.

Now if the lawyer were reviewing a prenup that someone else had written -- either another lawyer or the client -- the process might actually take longer than if being done from scratch. That's because lawyers are familiar with their own verbiage (i.e., boilerplate) and would have to carefully interpret someone else's verbiage looking for any pitfalls and traps.
You're getting at another reason why I thought it would not take six hours. In our initial consult meeting he also led me to believe that a lot of the language in prenups is very familiar to him, and that these are built from templates and then modified (which I am sure was the case for our prenup).

Also what you "prefer" with respect to time spent doesn't mean that an attorney will be fulfilling their ethical obligations to you as a client. I'm sure you would have no problem suing later and complaining that sufficient review wasn't completed.

The only wrinkle really was that we wanted community property to be built up for five years and then after that additional income would be separate property. This did not seem terribly complex to me. Many of his suggested edits were simply sections that failed to mention that the section does not come into effect until five years from the date of marriage. Important? Yes. Complex/requiring a lot of time to figure out? Not really. He was suggesting edits/concerns, not drafting the final language.
How do you know what the attorney reviewed? It might not have been just the prenup language but also court cases involving similar language.

Careful, good legal work takes time. Do you also tell a doctor how long they should spend on a surgery or giving you a consult? I'm not saying that you couldn't have gotten a more clear sense of the cost, but you sound very unreasonable. As for a flat fee $500 service - I would be concerned if someone I was marrying wanted to cheap out on the legal review that was supposed to protect me.

mptfan
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by mptfan » Sun Sep 17, 2017 9:01 am

Bfwolf wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:42 pm

2) Stopped after an hour, when he knew there was no way he'd be able to come close to honoring your request, and provide you a progress report.
Any professional can tell you that providing a progress report regarding work that has been done can be time consuming, and can take as much time as the work itself...you have to collect your thoughts, review the work you have done and the various steps you took to get to the result, review the results, show the results, reduce the report to writing in a coherent way that can be understood by someone not trained in that field...all of that takes time. And then the report itself has to be reviewed for accuracy before it goes out to the client. People who expect high quality professional work understand this.

I can imagine if the lawyer did not take the time to do any of that and simply sent the OP a partially reviewed document with handwritten notes and case citations written in different places throughout the document without any report or description of what he had done. The OP would be making a different complaint..."A lawyer just sent me a draft prenup with handwritten notes and legal jargon scribbled all over it and I have no idea what they mean, and now he wants to charge me for an hour of work! Can you believe that!!"
Last edited by mptfan on Sun Sep 17, 2017 9:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
I eat risk for breakfast. :)

Smorgasbord
Posts: 147
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Smorgasbord » Sun Sep 17, 2017 9:25 am

supalong52 wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 2:39 pm
To give some perspective, when my wife and I did our prenup, I wrote the first draft of the prenup based on a very solid template (I am not a family attorney) so our attorneys were essentially both there to review it. It still cost us $10K combined to finalize the thing.
This reminds me of the old joke among contractors:
Our rates:
$65.00 per hour
$75.00 per hour if you watch
$85.00 per hour if you ask questions
$100.00 per hour if you help
$125.00 per hour if you say "it's an easy job"
$135.00 per hour if you complain
$150.00 per hour if you did the job, then called us to fix it
:mrgreen:

chevca
Posts: 458
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by chevca » Sun Sep 17, 2017 9:35 am

Here's another way to look at it, OP.

In my real estate lawyer story earlier, I paid a couple thousand dollars to avoid losing $10k in that incident. It felt like money well spent to me there.

How much might this have saved you in the event of a divorce compared to what you will pay the lawyer? Is it really worth quibbling over paying 3 or 6 hours? I'm going to guess, not. Keep things in perspective here.

Also, straying off topic a bit here, but why build assets for 5 years after marriage and THEN it's all community property? That seems like it's got to be unfair to someone. But, if both parties are in agreement, I guess...

JW-Retired
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by JW-Retired » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:08 am

Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:24 pm
The only wrinkle really was that we wanted community property to be built up for five years and then after that additional income would be separate property. This did not seem terribly complex to me. Many of his suggested edits were simply sections that failed to mention that the section does not come into effect until five years from the date of marriage.
Did the lawyer not hear of that "wrinkle" until the first meeting? It sounds really unusual to layman me. Maybe researching it took him more time than he expected?
JW
Retired at Last

Chicago60
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Chicago60 » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:23 am

You placed an unreasonable limitation on the lawyer's work asking him/her to limit their time spent on the assignment which likely actually did take 6 hours to complete competently. Hence, I think the title of your post for "overbilling" is maybe unfair to the lawyer. Nevertheless. your attorney wrongly agreed to this limitation.....unless through further follow up emails and calls with your attorney, you suggested their further work was authorized and justified. If not, you should consider sending a check for the 3 hours you offered to pay for, explaining the limits you and the lawyer agreed to, and inform them that no further fees will be paid. Recognize, of course, that your attorney may sue for the balance.
Last edited by Chicago60 on Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

Broken Man 1999
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Broken Man 1999 » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:37 am

JW-Retired wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:08 am
Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:24 pm
The only wrinkle really was that we wanted community property to be built up for five years and then after that additional income would be separate property. This did not seem terribly complex to me. Many of his suggested edits were simply sections that failed to mention that the section does not come into effect until five years from the date of marriage.
Did the lawyer not hear of that "wrinkle" until the first meeting? It sounds really unusual to layman me. Maybe researching it took him more time than he expected?
JW
That wrinkle might have required lots of research, as I would believe the couple's desired goal might bump up against state statutes governing community property issues.

But IANAL.

My only direct experience with a lawyer was one that at the end of his service gave me a very nice check, with his billing already deducted. :moneybag

Broken Man 1999
“If I cannot drink Bourbon and smoke cigars in Heaven than I shall not go. " -Mark Twain

dbr
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by dbr » Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:41 am

JW-Retired wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 10:08 am
Castamere wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:24 pm
The only wrinkle really was that we wanted community property to be built up for five years and then after that additional income would be separate property. This did not seem terribly complex to me. Many of his suggested edits were simply sections that failed to mention that the section does not come into effect until five years from the date of marriage.
Did the lawyer not hear of that "wrinkle" until the first meeting? It sounds really unusual to layman me. Maybe researching it took him more time than he expected?
JW
One sure way to build up legal costs is to ask for "just one wrinkle." (Can you just see Columbo saying "Just one question, sir."?) That particular wrinkle sounds like a very complicated proposition to me.

EddyB
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by EddyB » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:13 am

mptfan wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 9:01 am
Bfwolf wrote:
Sat Sep 16, 2017 8:42 pm

2) Stopped after an hour, when he knew there was no way he'd be able to come close to honoring your request, and provide you a progress report.
Any professional can tell you that providing a progress report regarding work that has been done can be time consuming, and can take as much time as the work itself...you have to collect your thoughts, review the work you have done and the various steps you took to get to the result, review the results, show the results, reduce the report to writing in a coherent way that can be understood by someone not trained in that field...all of that takes time. And then the report itself has to be reviewed for accuracy before it goes out to the client. People who expect high quality professional work understand this.

I can imagine if the lawyer did not take the time to do any of that and simply sent the OP a partially reviewed document with handwritten notes and case citations written in different places throughout the document without any report or description of what he had done. The OP would be making a different complaint..."A lawyer just sent me a draft prenup with handwritten notes and legal jargon scribbled all over it and I have no idea what they mean, and now he wants to charge me for an hour of work! Can you believe that!!"
Bfwolf's other suggestion (the lawyer should tell the client upfront how much time it will take, or that a couple of hours is unreasonable) is equally problematic. While I can tell clients about how much it typically costs to do "an [X]," I am clear with them that I can't estimate how much it will cost to do their particular version of [X] without getting pretty far into it (and that's almost always for projects that are going to be at least in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range). E.g., without first knowing how the fiancée's attorney tried to achieve the "wrinkle," how would the OP's atty be expected to know how long it would take to consider it? Even with tremendously sophisticated clients (typically including their own experienced in-house attorneys), it's an everyday occurrence for me to face client requests that suggest the client doesn't understand the complexity of the request or the work required to get from a "that's probably what would happen" answer to a "that's what should happen under the law as it stands today" answer (to say nothing of the situations when there isn't even a "should happen" answer to give).

Jags4186
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Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Jags4186 » Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 am

OP,

Is this a sole practitioner or a big firm? If it is a sole practitioner you probably can get away with arguing with him and only paying 2 hours. It is very rarely worth the time to pursue $1000 or $1500 for a sole practitioner as the amount of time spent doing so is less than his or her normal rate. If it is a big firm they probably have a department for collections and they will make your life miserable.

Sure you can complain to the state bar association/go for fee arbitration, but again, we're probably talking about $1200 bucks here. What if you lose and they send you to collections and destroy your credit?

For what its worth, you had unrealistic expectations. Had the attorneys simply stopped working at 2 hours, you could have been stuck paying him and not had any clarity. In fact, after 2 hours of review he'd have to charge your for the time spent explaining to you what he's seen over the two hours, but then disclaim everything as he hadn't finished the work.

Castamere
Posts: 9
Joined: Fri Sep 15, 2017 9:34 am

Re: Lawyer overbilling for prenup review

Post by Castamere » Mon Sep 18, 2017 12:36 am

First, thanks everyone for the detailed input. Learning a lot from this!
chevca wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:22 am
OP, plenty of valid questions have been asked and you're avoiding them. Did you sign an engagement agreement.... we're you satisfied with the services... did you want it back if it was only half done after an hour or so... if you know what needed to be done and how long it would take, why go to a lawyer? Feel free to address some of those.
I mentioned earlier in the thread that I did sign an agreement for legal services. That agreement was pretty boilerplate, it did not contain a limit on hours but didn't require a retainer after my request to not use a retainer. This wasn't signed until AFTER the email in which I requested an hour or so of work after which point I wanted to be notified that this was turning into a bigger task.

This was also after we went over the agreement and our intent with it in detail in the already paid for initial consult meeting. For those commenting about the one thing that was unique to our prenup, he absolutely knew about this before I agreed to his services. He knew I was wary of using a retainer because I had no idea how many hours I would be charged and that this could end up costing far more than I expected. He could easily have informed me that this was unusual enough to warrant far more time than my original request. He could have basically said "expect at least X hours, likely more. If that's too much for you find another option". That would have been so much appreciated. It would be far better to take on the work after letting me know in the ballpark of what it would cost rather than shocking me with a much higher than expected bill at the end.

He did do good work. At least I am not being asked to pay what is (to me) a lot of money for work I was unhappy with.
Jags4186 wrote:
Sun Sep 17, 2017 11:41 am
Is this a sole practitioner or a big firm?
It's a small, two lawyer firm.

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