Attorney Fees - What do you think?


We’ve been charging fixed fees in our firm for many years. We haven’t used hourly billing in so long that I can barely remember how miserable it made us and our clients. Everybody hated the lack of certainty, the anxiety and the expense.

I know, however, that many lawyers still bill hourly. They still won’t tell you the true cost of your case in advance because they say the “can’t predict the hours it’ll take”. How is it that a lawyer who does this work day in and day out can’t tell you what it’s going to cost? What’s the point of being an expert is you still can’t predict what’s likely to happen?

So I’m wondering what it’s like across North Carolina. Are you being given the option of a fixed fee for your case? Are you still being billed hourly? Are you being told by lawyers that they can’t provide you with predictable fee information? What’s the story?

I’d appreciate hearing your story. What’s happening?

Lee Rosen


From my experience 7 years ago, my Attorney asked for a $2000 retainer, and was going to charge by the hour. In the end, he just drew up a child visitation agreement for me and that was all he did, as things progressed and my wife and I got back together. He sent me a check for $1000. An expensive visitation schedule that was never used.

Another Attorney charged a friend of mine $500 just for a one hour consultation, and was going to charge $250 per hour after that.

I think both were way out of line and I agree that most Attorneys have been in more than one “Rodeo” and they know what the costs are!


Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate your willingness to share your situation. I’m a bit surprised at the lack of response so far and I’m grateful that you jumped in. Hopefully, we’ll get more feedback soon.

It would be great to hear more of what’s happening across the state. I know lots of visitors to this site are having experiences with law firms. I think everyone would appreciate some insight into how things are being done.

Thanks again,



I am in court now, Spouse filed for DBB. I have paid my Attorney a total of $3000, which includes a Retainer of $1000. She has filed an Answer, CounterClaim, sent over one Discovery and RFP, filed for an Extension of time on The discovery we received, and filed a Single Motion for Temporary CS, CC, and IED about 2 weeks ago and requested an August date for the hearing, and I created a Voluntary Temp Sep Agreement to send over hoping to at least begin receiving some financial assistance and get some type of custody defined, she cleaned it up of course to make it a Consent Order and never followed up on it. I have a past due invoice for almost $3000 and she wants another $1500 put in Trust. Case was filed in February, Spouse dismissed in March, Refiled in April. Mediation set for next week. My invoice is filled with fees based on me emailing asking when are you going to request some temporary financial support and not getting answers. Now she refuses to attend Mediation until past due balance is paid and money put in trust. What have I paid $3000 for because I truly should have filled in the blanks myself. Attorneys need to offer a flat fee, bundled or bundled services, consult for a fee for Pro Se clients, anything other than $300 to think about how you want to reply to an email. I feel confident that I can handle the mediation next week alone, but I also feel screwed that my Attorney flat out refuses to work though she hasn’t been relieved by the Judge nor has she technically filed a Motion to withdraw.


I consulted with several attorneys before I separated and all told me they would bill me hourly. I have spent now $10K+ and I haven’t even filed for divorce yet. Granted, my case is complex because he has a 50B and a criminal conviction and now lives out of state, but nothing is resolved. I have temporary full custody of the kids, and each track out period we negotiate a visitation schedule for him. A psychological evaluation was ordered on both of us last August. Mine was done in September, his is still not done.I am supposed to file for divorce next week and hopefully with the $3K I paid earlier this week that will be enough for her to file the paperwork. At this point I am not even asking for child support from him because 1) he can’t hold down a job, 2) she asked for a $3K retainer just to get started. Chances are good that I won’t see the return on my investment for that $3K.

I understand hourly rates - I am a Project Manager and I bill hourly. But I also know that I have to give a client an estimate of the total project costs, including some “buffer” in the event something unexpected happens. With that estimate, I have a scope of work document that details every assumption I have made in setting up that budget and timeline. If I start the job and I see we will be going over, I have to evaluate where those assumptions were wrong or changed and then discuss that with the client. I cannot tell you how many times I get an attorney bill and am completely blown away by the $ due. At least give me a countdown - you can talk to me for 7 more minutes before you have to replenish your retainer, or something.


My Family Law attorney has a new small practice (she left a firm) and charges $3500 retainer fee plus $350 per hour. I have paid another $1300 bill and will be paying more as our settlement progresses. I wonder how she can charge a flat retainer fee that does not get hourly deduction or refund? Other legal specialties use the retainer as a working fund. She just keeps it upfront. ?


My attorney charged me a $5k retainer and billed at $375 an hour. Granted I felt she represented me well in court. I was usually anxious and on edge anytime I wanted to ask a question or get clarification I would avoid it because I knew it was going to cost me at least $67. I never left voicemails for her.

I paid about $25k in the course of 3 years which included all of the ED stuff, custody, divorce etc. In fairness to my attorney my ex did not make it easy and smashed my car window adding domestic violence costs, costs for me to file contempt and less than six months later he filed a motion to modify custody which resulted in a day and a half trial. He did have to pay $6k of the second round of court costs as attorney fees.


Wow, you really illustrated the worst part of hourly billing -

When the call isn’t made the client doesn’t get advice or the lawyer doesn’t get informed. What a disaster.

In those situations, the client sometimes signs something they shouldn’t sign. Or they don’t tell the lawyer something that turns out to be critical in court. Big mess either way.

Hourly billing creates all sorts of unexpected fallout. It’s sad that most law firms handle the money that way. It’s not good for anyone. I’m sorry that’s what you experienced. We’ll try to learn from your experience and make things better for others down the road. Thanks.

Lee Rosen