Understanding a Legal Bill

So you’ve decided to hire a lawyer. It’s important to understand the various types of legal feels and to make sure the billing arrangement will work for you.

  • The most common arrangement with lawyers involves an hourly rate. A lawyer keeps detailed records of their activity to present the total number of hours spent.
  • Fixed fees are charged for straightforward matters like the preparation of a basic will, real estate purchases, uncontested divorces and routine criminal cases. The amount should be quoted in advance.

Contingency Fees

Lawyers can occasionally charge contingency fees, where the client pays only if the claim being pursued in a personal injury case is a success. The method used to calculate the fee should be stated on the bill. The percentage taken by the lawyer is lower if the case settles early, and higher if the case goes to trial.

Tip: Clients are advised to receive an estimate of the full billing amount ahead of time.


Expenses incurred by a law firm on behalf of a client are known as disbursements—these are paid to a third party when their services are necessary to proceed with the matter. The bill should clearly state the nature of the disbursement along with the amount and date it was incurred. Disbursement costs could include:

  • Commissioning reports from experts in a field that pertains to the case
  • Court filing costs
  • Postage and courier
  • Long distance charges
  • photocopying expenses

Pre-Paid Plans

Prepaid legal plans involve paying a monthly fee that provides access to legal services from powers of attorney, to fighting traffic tickets, to compensation for defective products. A lump sum payment that fairly reflects time spent on a case can be negotiated with some lawyers.

A misunderstanding over fees is likely to be cleared up directly with the lawyer, although a Registrar of the Supreme Court or provincial Law Societies will help arbitrate if necessary.

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