Education Law Advocates, P.C.

How to Save on Attorney Fees

Education Law Advocates, P.C.
Education Attorneys

There are plenty of genuine mysteries in life. Are men really from Mars? Are women really from Venus? Why are teenagers so difficult? Where do our lost socks really go? The list is endless!

Unfortunately, we can’t answer those questions. (Though we know some psychologists who might be able to help with the third one). But there’s one mystery that we can unravel completely. Right here. Right now. We refer to the “mystery” of attorney’s fees.

Our “Top Four” Ways to Save
Money on Attorney Fees

1. Keep calls short. Think before you call. "Do I need to call?  Why?  Are there three things I want to discuss?  What are they?"  Tell us up front: "I need to keep this call to ten minutes."  Keep track of time!.  Ask us: "How long was this call?"

2. Economize on emails. Ask: "Why I am emailing?  Will one email do instead of four?  Will just calling save me time and money?  Do I just need to vent?  Can I call a friend instead?  Do I want the attorney to review 20 emails?  Are only three really important?"  You get the idea.

3. Use a non-attorney advocate. Most folks need help organizing and understanding the records, documenting contacts, preparing for school meetings, and following through.  A non- attorney education advocate can help -- and attend school meetings, too.  Many charge no fee . (See our “Web Links” page).

4. Learn from the cheapest source. We can help you understand your child's school evaluation report and standardized test scores.  But so can chapters 10 and 11 of From Emotions to Advocacy," a book we give to new clients.  Guess which costs less!

Our Goal: To Keep Your Fees Down

We want to serve as many parents and kids as we can. So we need to keep our fees as low as we can and still have a little left over. We have bills and expenses, too. So we need to get paid for the time we spend on our cases.

To control your legal fees, you need to know how they work. Many people don’t. So here’s the (short) course on what you need to know about how we “bill our time.” Want to save money? Then read below.

Billing “by the hour”

Like most attorneys in “private practice,” we “bill by the hour.” That means we get paid according to the time we spend on each matter. The more time we spend, the more we charge. Sounds great, right? So any attorney who bills “hourly” can make more money simply by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g  o-u-t  t-h-e  w-o-r-k, spending more time on a case, and charging more. It’s like being able to print money in the basement, right?

Okay, we’re human. We wish it were that easy. And maybe it is if your client is Exxon. But our clients aren’t. Most of them are parents who can’t afford to pay a lot of money to attorneys, especially with the way the economy seems to be headed. They don’t like big bills. So that keeps the pressure on us. We need to work efficiently. We need to keep our “time” down. We need to keep our fees as low as we reasonably can. We need to offer good “value.” Or we can’t serve the clients we want to serve in the way we want to serve them. So our bills need to “work” for you – and they need to “work” for us, too.  We have bills and expenses like everybody else (and a kid in college!).

What do those funny little “0.2’s” and “0.4’s” on our bill mean?

First, understand how billing “by the hour” works. For billing purposes, we divide our time into tenths of an hour. Our standard "billable" rate is $175 per hour.  In some cases, this hourly rate is subject to a "cap" or maximum fee.  (See our article entitled "Client-Centered" Legal Services by clicking here).

The table below shows how the hourly rate works.

Attorney Fees – By Tenths of an Hour

Time (in minutes)

Range (in Minutes)

Percentage of one hour, as shown on bill

Cost at $175 hourly rate

6

6-9

0.1

17.50

12

10-15

0.2

35.00

18

16-21

0.3

52.50

24

22-27

0.4

70.00

30

28-33

0.5

87.50

36

34-39

0.6

105.00

42

40-45

0.7

122.50

48

46-51

0.8

140.00

54

52-57

0.9

157.50

60

58-63

1.0

175.00

So how does it work? Let’s say you call us to discuss your case. If we talk for six minutes at the $175.00 hourly rate, your cost is $17.50 (0.1 x $175/hour = $17.50). If we talk for a half-hour, your cost is $87.50 (0.5 x $175/hour = $87.50). But what if the call lasts nine minutes? Or what if it lasts 33 minutes? How is that charged? Answer: We round off to the nearest tenth of an hour. Now, we don't charge for calls under six minutes.  Period.  But a call lasting ten minutes in rounded up to two-tenths of an hour and costs $35.00. A call lasting 33 minutes is rounded down to 0.5 and costs $87.50 (as shown in the table). We have a timer on our phone that we use to keep track of our time. Do we ever make a mistake in our time-keeping? Sure. We encourage our clients to keep track of their time and review our bills carefully. If you believe we made a mistake, please let us know (especially if you think we undercharged you!).

Our “True Confession”

We admit it.  In general, we like our clients.  We want to help.  We enjoy talking with them – even when the conversation meanders a little.  So you need to be vigilant!  And please don’t misunderstand.  We’re happy to talk with you about the price of gas or the last “Iggles” game against Dallas.  But that’s not why you’re calling us.   So stay focused and keep your attorney fees down!

Some modest ideas for keeping your attorney fees down

If you’re concerned about keeping costs down (and who isn’t?), here are some ideas:

  • Phone Calls . This might just be the biggest “bill-inflater” for clients.  We suggest ways to keep your costs down in the inset box above.  The bottom line: know why you’re calling; stay focused when you call; always remember that the billing clock is “running”; and don’t hesitate to tell us if you want to keep the conversation to no more than ten minutes or whatever.  As they say, “it’s your nickel.”
  • Emails . We love email!  We use it constantly.  But be aware: It’s another potential “bill-inflater.”  Why are you emailing us?  Got a question?  Want to provide information?  Bring us up to date?  Think about why you’re doing it before you start it.  Ask yourself: Is this important?  Maybe you don’t even need to send it.  Keep the message short.  Use numbered lists to highlight important information.  Don’t worry about making it perfect.  Got a few typos?  No problem.  We can figure it out.  For more ideas on saving money on email, see the inset box.
  • Focus on fees! Focus on your fees and ask questions.  We don’t mind.  Really!  Carefully review your bill.  We provide detailed descriptions in the bill of what we did, when we did it, and how much we charged.  We think we do a good job of keeping accurate time records.  But we don’t claim to be perfect.  See a mistake on your bill?  Call us!  Don’t understand a charge?  Call us!  Have an idea on how we can reduce costs?  Let us know!  We’re always willing to talk with you about your bills and how to keep your attorney fees down (and, of course, we don’t charge you to discuss charges).
  • Retain a non-attorney education advocate. We like a team approach.  We generally don’t think parents should go to important school meetings “alone.”  You might want to take your child's therapist, another "treater," or even a good friend to the meeting.  We sometimes recommend retaining a non-attorney education advocate as part of the team.  Some advocates charge an hourly rate; some charge no fee at all.  An advocate can help you get organized, get ready, get moving, and get better results.  We list some advocates on our “Web Links” page. Of course, it is up to you to find an advocate that you think would be the right fit for you and your child.  But why pay us to help you with things, like getting and organizing your records, that an advocate can help you do for nothing or a lower hourly fee?  Every member of the team has his or her role to play.  To keep your attorney fees down, think: Is this something I can do on my own? Is it something I can do with a non-attorney education advocate?
  • Pop Quiz: How much will it cost for us to attend a meeting with you?  Suggested answer:  More than you probably want to pay! Sometimes, we can be helpful in reaching a good resolution at an IEP meeting or other school meeting, for example. So sometimes it can be cost-efficient for us to attend. But a two-hour meeting is going to cost you $250. A three-hour meeting is going to cost you $250, too.  That's because we cap our fees at a maximum of $250 to attend a school meeting.  But this is serious money!  You should always evaluate the costs and benefits. Is it necessary for us to attend?  Is it desirable?  Is it cost-efficient?  What do we hope to accomplish?  Can someone else accomplish the same thing for less?  We're happy to discuss those issues with you.  We "recommend."  You "decide."
  • Stay off the yellow brick road! To paraphrase management consultant Stephen Covey (and switch metaphors): "If you put your ladder against the wrong wall, every step you take up the ladder just gets you to the wrong place faster.”  When we first review your child’s records and meet with you, we will carefully analyze with you where you are, where you need to go, and how best to get there. That improves our chances of “picking the right wall.” Getting clear on your goals and strategy – and avoiding dead-ends – will save you time, money and aggravation.  But keep this in mind: A ladder that looks like the right ladder in the beginning isn't always the right ladder.  The "right" path often isn't clear.  Sometimes, all we can do is the best we can.

A Final Word

Money, as some say, is nothing but an exchange of value. You hire us when you are unable to solve a problem that needs solving with your school district. You want to get fair value for your investment. We can never guarantee a certain result because there are too many factors that are beyond our control.  But you are entitled to expect that we will work hard to help you get the services your child needs and is legally entitled to receive.

If you’re like most people, you don’t mind paying your lawyer (well, okay, maybe you do mind!), but you want to understand what you are paying for and you don’t want to pay more than necessary.  That’s true whether your dealing with attorneys or appliances!  We share those goals.  The more efficiently we can work with you, the more cases we can take on, the more parents and children we potentially can help, and, it has to be said, the more bills we can send out at the first of the month.  Being efficient has no downside!  So follow the tips we provide here, and everybody benefits!

Could we say more about bills? Sure. For example, under some circumstances we may be able to recover all or part of your attorney fees from the school district either through settlement or a "due process" hearing. We would be happy to discuss that with you as well. Just call or email us.

ELA Education Law Advocates PC - Special Education Lawyers

The Culbertson Building
590 Snyder Avenue
West Chester, Pennsylvania 19382
Voice: 610.696.5006
Fax: 610.696.6590
E-mail

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Education Law Advocates, P.C. skillfully represents parents and their special needs children in southeastern and central Pennsylvania, including West Chester, Lower Merion, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown and Upper Darby, and throughout the Philadelphia metro area, including Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Philadelphia, Lancaster County and Berks County.

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