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Are Lawyers Allowed to Bill Extra for their Secretaries and Paralegal’s Time?

Asian paralegal sitting hold pen for signing a applicant filling document reports papers.

Lawyers get a lot of heat from people all around for the rates that they charge and how they conduct their business. This frustration with lawyers leads many to ask if attorneys are even allowed to bill at the rates that they do for work done by their paralegals or secretaries. Those extra charges on top of everything else that the client has to pay to get decent legal representation can be a bit too much for some people to handle.

They want relief from the payments that they have to send to their attorneys, and they will ask questions about paralegal payments and the like if they believe that they are perhaps being overcharged.

Paralegals Serve An Integral Role

A paralegal woman looking at a document with magnifying glass.

Let us start by saying that paralegals truly play an integral role in the legal system. Lawyers are incredibly busy people, and they don’t have time to handle all of the small tasks that might land on their desks on a daily basis. Instead, they ship some of that work onto the shoulders of their paralegals to help them out with.

This allows the wheels of the legal system to continue to turn as they need to. However, it also means that some lawyers will have to charge for the paralegal time that goes into the work that they do. Courts have ruled that it is legal for lawyers to charge for the time that their paralegals put into a case.

You should carefully review your bill from the lawyer to ensure that they bill at a paralegal rate for any work that was conducted by office personnel. Obviously, the work that is done by a paralegal or Legal Assistant will be charged at a much lower rate per hour than what is charged by the lawyer him or herself. If you sense that your lawyer is overbilling you, you should likely fire that lawyer and get a new one.

What Are Some Tasks That Paralegals Handle? 

Cheerful paralegal man with 6 hands and different tasks.

In order to determine which hourly rate you should be charged for a given set of work, you need to know what kind of work paralegals tend to do. Your lawyer is not going to spend their time working on my new tasks such as handling clerical work, answering phones, etc. They will put this work off on someone that they have hired in order to take care of general office needs such as these.

If you notice an inordinate amount of time is billed at a lawyer’s rate for work that appears to be something that a paralegal can do, then you may have reason to be suspicious about your lawyer’s billing practices. That being said, lawyers do have to put many hours into a case in order to form a reasonable argument before the court for their clients. Therefore, you should expect to pay for a number of hours of your lawyer’s time as they work your case through the system.

Remember, nothing moves through the courts all that quickly, and lawyers need to use every minute of their time to ensure that the case that they make for you is as powerful as possible.

Some tasks that paralegals tend to handle on their own include:

  • Setting client appointments
  • Filing basic documents with the court on behalf of the lawyer they work for
  • Sorting mail
  • Answering phones
  • Setting up free initial consultations
  • Greeting new clients when they enter the office

This type of work is the kind of work that you would expect someone to pay a reasonably low wage for. Your attorney should not bill you for their full rate in order to simply greet someone at the door or check their mail. Most attorneys are very conscious of all of this and are not going to try to take advantage of your situation.

They know that their business comes from word-of-mouth advertising, and you could be a great source of that advertising for them as long as they take care of you. Besides that, many lawyers work on what is known as a contingency basis. This means that they only get paid if you get paid via a settlement or judgment by the court.

Their interests are meant to be aligned with yours at all times in order to keep them on track and make sure that you are never overbilled for a service done by your lawyer.

Can You Take Action If Your Lawyer Is Overbilling You? 

A lawyer team working together with paralegal.

You might ask yourself what course of action you could possibly take if your lawyer is overbilling you. The first step that most people think of is to fire their lawyer. Obviously, this will help cut the losses and sever the relationship that you had with this attorney.

You only want to take this step if you are absolutely certain that your lawyer is overbilling you for services that were performed by a paralegal or legal assistant. Additionally, you should try to make sure that you keep all records pertaining to this potential overbilling as proof of your lawyer doing something that they should not have. You may have to obtain another lawyer in order to file a lawsuit against the first.

In the vast majority of cases, a settlement or agreement can be reached outside of court with your first attorney. They may have evidence that they actually did bill you correctly, so make sure that you’re prepared for the reality that you may have to pay their bill regardless of how you feel about it. You can always take your case to a second attorney to see what they think and receive a free consultation regarding their services and how they can help you.

Always Vet Your Attorneys Before Hiring Them

A lawyer discussing the task of their team.

This piece of advice may sound like common sense to some people, but you should always vet your attorneys before you hire them. This means that you should look to see what their track record is of handling clients in the past. Not only should you check their win record in court, but you should see what previous clients have had to say about these attorneys.

Sometimes, certain clients may be upset with their attorney for personal reasons, so you should take some of these reviews with a grain of salt. That being said, you do want to make sure that your attorney is someone who has the trust of the community and their previous clients. If they can’t even work well enough to earn some decent reviews from previous clients, then how can you trust that they will be able to handle your case in a professional and efficient manner?

The truth is you cannot trust them unless you have this information in hand. Fortunately, there is a lot of information about attorneys available on the internet from previous clients as well as from public court records and other information that may be useful to you prior to hiring your attorney. Review all relevant records before you make a final decision about who you will hire and why.

If you cannot explain to yourself why you are hiring a particular attorney, then you may want to make a different decision. Take a few moments to ask yourself what the case is for hiring a particular attorney before you pull the trigger. If you feel that you can legitimately make the case, then Dive Right In.

However,  you should question everything you know about your attorney before making that decision. It’s a lot easier to do the homework on the front end than it is to try to recoup charges from an attorney who has overbilled you. Consider this carefully and make a wise decision.

Rest assured that most attorneys have only your best interests at heart, and you will be a great client for them if they can win your business. They know this, and they will do what they can to show you that they are the right person for you.