How much will this cost?
It is easier to predict how much your matter will cost if it does not involve any sort of litigation. In fact, there are some matters that Morgan Law will handle on a flat fee basis (plus expenses). In any event, Morgan Law knows that money may be tight. Your financial situation might be even worse because of your current legal situation. Morgan Law is always pleased to provide you with an estimate, but every matter is unique. As your legal matter develops, the estimate may go up or down. Rest assured that one of the key principles of Morgan Law, PLLC is to avoid racking up hours doing unnecessary work just so that the bill gets larger. Here are some figures that will help you know what to expect:
Most hourly matters are charged at an hourly rate of $175.00 per hour. Time will be kept in increments of tenths of an hour.
If your matter is handled on a contingency basis (or “for a percentage”), the percentage that you will receive varies from two-thirds to 80% of the amount recovered. For instance, if you hire Morgan Law on a 25% contingency basis to help you recover money from someone else for property damage, personal injury, or simply money that they owe you for goods or services you provided, and the other side pays $10,000 (from a successful lawsuit or a settlement), then you would receive $7,500. Note that you will also be responsible for paying certain court costs and fees. If your matter is handled on a contingency basis, all attorneys are required by the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct to enter into a written fee agreement with you explaining the arrangement.
The client is responsible for paying court costs, unless other arrangements have been made. Court costs include filing fees, sheriff fees for serving suits and subpoenas, deposition fees, arbitration or mediation fees, and mileage expenses. These fees can add up, but are almost always an essential part of suing someone or defending a lawsuit brought against you.
There are some matters that Morgan Law will handle on a flat fee basis. In these matters, you be informed exactly what the flat fee covers and what it doesn’t cover. Again, the client is usually responsible for all court costs and expenses.
Do you offer free consultations?
Morgan Law understands that you want to weigh all of your options before you proceed. The goal is to help you do that while keeping your costs as low as possible. Our general policy is to get as much information and advise the client as much as possible before entering into any formal fee arrangement. An attorney will sometimes give you limited general advice without charge. If we get into a lengthy meeting and provide substantial legal advice, you will be charged on an hourly basis. Most initial client meetings last less than an hour and therefore will cost you $150 or less.
How will I be charged and how can I pay?
Morgan Law’s policy is to bill each client monthly for legal services and fees incurred over the past month. You can pay by cash, check, or credit card (Visa or Mastercard). Your bill should explain exactly what was done on your case that month and the fee for that service. If you ever do not understand your bill, regardless of what firm you are using, you should be able to talk directly to the attorney handling your matter so that s/he can explain the bill. At Morgan Law, PLLC, your billing questions are welcome.
Can I recover my attorney’s fees if I win?
The short answer is “usually you can’t.” Sure, this is frustrating. You’ve sued someone because you have legitimately been wronged, or someone has sued you and doesn’t have a real good reason—and you not only have the problems surrounding the lawsuit, but you have all of these attorney’s fees to pay. There is a long (and boring) explanation as to how we adopted the “American Rule,” in which each side bears its own costs, but I won’t trouble you with it here. However, there are some limited instances when you can recover the amount you have paid your attorney. These include: certain promissory notes, personal injury and property damage below $10,000.00, wages and commissions owed, and certain other employment cases that go to trial. For some of these, the amount that the law allows you to recover is a fixed percentage (usually 15% of the amount owed). For others, you can recover the actual amounts you have paid to your attorney. It is important for you to realize that when you settle a matter (rather than have it decided by a judge or a jury), the settlement amount will be expressed in flat dollar amounts and the other side won’t really care about paying the fees you have paid to your attorney. The settlement amount is just a number that is agreed upon by all of the parties to resolve the issue—it is up to each side to take care of the attorneys according to the agreement they have with their attorneys.
What’s a retainer? Do I need to pay one?
Not very many clients pay a true “retainer,” which is an amount paid to the attorney just to reserve that attorney’s time. Many high end clients will pay this amount to an attorney to make sure that the attorney isn’t “retained” by the other side and conflicted from representing the client. Unless you are in immediate need of legal assistance, the clock is ticking, and there is a reason you fear the other side may retain the services of Morgan Law, you don’t need to pay a retainer.
What you may need to pay is a “cost advance.” Hopefully this isn’t confusing—but many lawyers talk about a retainer when they really mean a “cost advance” or “fee advance.” What matters more than what it is called how the amount is treated. Typically, Morgan Law will require a cost advance on any case that is expected to take more than a couple of hours to handle. The attorney will state the amount required (say, $3,000) and the client will be asked to pay that money “into trust.” Morgan Law will deposit that money into its Trust Account (a special account called an IOLTA account monitored by the NC State Bar with the interest going to a special state legal fund), and “bill against” that amount as work is done on your case.
For example, you come to Morgan Law and want to sue someone who did a poor job repairing something at your house. You are quoted $3,000 as a “retainer” (whoops, did it again). You pay Morgan Law that $3,000 before any work is done on the case. Let’s say in the first month, an attorney meets with you for an hour, works on preparing the lawsuit, files the lawsuit, serves the lawsuit by sheriff, and spends a couple of hours working on preparing discovery requests. In the first month, you may have $800.00 in initial fees and expenses. At the end of the month, the firm will take that $800.00 out of the Trust Account and basically pay your bill with that $800.00. Let’s say that in the second month, the other side decides to settle the case and the firm has only spent another $200.00 on negotiations and drafting the settlement agreement. Again, $200.00 comes out of the Trust Account, but you get back the $2,000 that is left over.
On certain matters, such as complicated cases for trial, you may be asked to keep a minimum amount in the Trust Account to fund the ongoing litigation.
If you have further questions about the IOLTA program, you can contact The NC State Bar at (919) 828-0477, (888) 828-1718 fax, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I know that I’m getting the right attorney?
Morgan Law wants you to pick the right attorney for your particular legal matter. Certainly, the hope here is that Morgan Law, PLLC will be the firm you choose, but you should feel free to seek a second opinion, particularly if we determine that your legal issue isn’t one that the firm chooses to handle. Morgan Law will even recommend other attorneys for you! Here are the “12 Questions to Ask Your Potential Lawyer” that come from an independent website called Lawyers.com. You’ll note that answers to many of them are already elsewhere on this website, but most of them have different answers with respect to your individual legal issue. Morgan Law will be happy to answer these twelve and any more questions you have before you make a decision on hiring.
· What is your experience in this field?
· Have you handled matters like mine?
· What are the possible outcomes of my case?
· What are my alternatives in resolving the matter?
· Approximately how long will it take to resolve?
· Do you recommend mediation or arbitration?
· What are your rates and how often will you bill me?
· What is a ballpark figure for the total bill, including fees and expenses?
· How will you keep me informed of progress?
· What kind of approach will you take to resolve the matter - aggressive and unyielding, or will you be more inclined to reach a reasonable settlement?
· Who else in the office will be working on my case?
· Can junior attorneys or paralegals in the office handle some of the substantive legal work at a lower rate?
Why won’t my attorney call me back?
This is one of the chief criticisms of lawyers. Unfortunately we don’t seem to listen to the criticism and fix the problem. You might be told that “no news is good news” and generally this is correct. If you haven’t heard from your attorney, it usually means that nothing has developed with your case since the last time that you communicated. Morgan Law, PLLC strives to return all calls within 24 hours.
I’ve got a real problem but I hate to sue. Isn’t there another way to resolve this?
Morgan Law, PLLC is prepared to pursue a matter through litigation and a full trial if that is what it takes. Often, the parties involved are so far apart on any settlement that litigation is the only way to fully resolve a matter. However, Morgan Law also follows the advice of Abraham Lincoln: “Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker, the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” You’ve probably heard of “alternative dispute resolution” or “mediation” or “arbitration.” These are all options that can be used instead of litigation or in addition to litigation. Sometimes these options are even required in your case. If your case is in District Court (usually reserved for matters involving less than $10,000), you might be required to go to arbitration. If your case is in Superior Court (usually for matters involving more than $10,000), the court requires the parties to attempt to settle the matter through mediation. If the other parties agree, you can attempt to resolve your dispute by a formal mediation process or by a less formal meeting to exchange possible solutions.
What results can I expect?
There are different answers for this depending upon what legal issue you are facing. If you are the plaintiff, the wish is for a satisfactory settlement (or judgment if it goes to trial). If you are the defendant, the hope is that the matter against you can get dismissed early on in the process, or if not, that you are not found liable for the damages the other side claims. None of these possible outcomes comes without some degree of inconvenience and expense. There are unfortunately some common experiences for those involved in a lawsuit—not really “results” but things to expect:
The matter will probably take longer than you hoped
You may not hear much about what is going on in your case at times…because there isn’t much going on with your case
You may feel that your privacy is being invaded with all of the documents requested and all of the questions that are asked.
Often the amount that is at issue is not even agreed upon by both sides
You will often find it very difficult to collect on a judgment.
There may be expenses and fees that you don’t think are fair for you to pay for. Morgan Law will do our best to let you know what those potential expenses are before they arise, but they could include: filing fees, service fees, mailing expenses, mileage expenses, fees for deposition transcripts, and mediation and arbitration fees.
Can we stop the process at any time?
If you are the plaintiff, usually you can stop your legal matter when you choose for whatever reason that you choose. If you have already filed suit, you can file what’s called a “Voluntary Dismissal” and if you file that dismissal “without prejudice” you can file your lawsuit again within one year. However, if you are the defendant in a lawsuit, or if you are the plaintiff and the defendant has filed a counterclaim against you, then you can’t just get out of the lawsuit when you choose—not usually without some sort of settlement.
I am uncomfortable talking about certain personal matters. Isn’t what I tell an attorney confidential?
Morgan Law respects your privacy. During the course of representing you, you may be asked to reveal some very personal matters. Sometimes the other parties involved may ask you questions that seem to be too intrusive. Rest assured that everything legally possible will be done to keep your information confidential. Anything that is learned about you during the course of representing you is kept confidential (with very few exceptions—for instance, if you confess are about to go out and do physical harm to someone, there is actually a duty to attempt to prevent that). As personal and potentially emotional as some fact may be for you, one of the reasons that you hire an attorney is because they are emotionally detached. Morgan Law cares about your case because it is important to you, but not because of being emotionally wrapped up in the issue.
When will we go to trial?
As you may have guessed, the court system is usually very crowded. If your case is in Superior Court, it will need to go through mediation before it can go to trial. Many District Court cases are required to be arbitrated before they go to trial. Either way, it could be a year from the time a lawsuit is filed before it actually goes to trial. For Superior Court cases, there will be a day where certain active cases are given a trial week—any time from one month to four months away. When that trial week approaches, your case will be listed with all of the other cases for that week—usually in the order from oldest to most recently filed. The judge will start at the top usually and hear as many cases that week as possible. Usually no more than two or three cases are heard in one week. Sometimes only one will be heard. Here is the part that most people are unaware of (and which can be a little frustrating)--when the week is over, any cases that have not been heard are NOT automatically heard the next week. Instead, those cases are thrown back in the hat and will be given another trial week anywhere from one month to six months in the future.
For District Court cases, different counties handle the court calendar differently. For these cases, you might not be given as much warning that a case is coming up for trial. For any case that is selected for a week of trial, you will need to be available for that whole week, because unless your case is number one on the list you may only get a few hours notice that your case will be heard. Unfortunately, until we have more judges and courtrooms, there isn’t much that can be done to make this process any more predictable or efficient.
What’s involved in a lawsuit?
Here are the usual stages in a lawsuit:
Filing Suit (the Complaint)
Service of the Complaint
Discovery (Depositions, Documents)
Mediation or Arbitration
Can’t I just handle this matter on my own?
For individuals, the simple answer is yes, you can. You are free to be a “pro se” plaintiff or defendant in any court. Corporations are not able to represent themselves except in very limited situations. You might be surprised if you go to court to evict a tenant or collect on a debt and you’re told that your corporation needs an attorney! The better question is whether it is the best decision for you to handle the matter on your own. Many individuals and businesses represent themselves with effective results in small claims court all of the time—the issues are usually simpler and there is less legal paperwork and potential legal traps for you to fall into. However, if you are in district or superior court (and definitely in federal court), then you will want to consult with an attorney. Even if your consultation doesn’t result in you hiring an attorney, you will know better what you are facing. Beware that there are many procedural requirements that you must meet during a lawsuit, and if you don’t make the deadlines, the judge will hold you to the same standard as someone with a law degree and twenty years of experience. On television, they don’t show the heroic pro se plaintiff having his lawsuit thrown out because he failed to respond in the correct way by the correct deadline to some piece of paper he got mixed in with all of his other legal documents. Don’t make the decision to represent yourself without knowing the risks.
How long can I wait before I sue?
For many issues, you can wait three years. Sometimes you must bring a lawsuit within one year. Sometimes, especially in employment matters, you need to act within weeks of the event you are complaining about. The short answer is: if you think you have a legal complaint against someone, consult with an attorney as soon as possible. They will know what clocks are ticking in your case. Just because you consult with an attorney doesn’t mean you will be filing suit immediately.
Note that this is a different question than what to do if you have been sued yourself…
I was just served a lawsuit by the sheriff. What do I do now?
Consult an attorney. If you develop a sudden and sharp pain in your body, you would see a doctor, right? Hopefully you would. Well, a lawsuit is not much different. It can be sudden and painful, but you can get help if you go to a lawyer right away. Don’t put it off. You have deadlines to respond and to respond correctly. MUST you see a lawyer to respond? No, but see our question about representing yourself…