I work in an agency where clients will ask for investigations or have queries or specific requests (requiring research/analysis) via email or phone or even text.

I need to bill for this time without having to estimate time required on every request. What do lawyers do to cover their billing agreement in such circumstances? I couldn't find an appropriate terms and condition or similar clause. I understand when I call my lawyer about something or ask something and they email me back they'll charge me and I'm fine with that - but where would this agreement be established and what would a suitable clause look like?

  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because there is no legal question here
    – Dale M
    Jun 6, 2017 at 5:29
  • 2
    As I read it, it is a question about how lawyers bill for their services which has a legitimate relationship to the law. It also asks how the terms of engagement between a lawyer and client for billing purposes are established which is a legal question.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 6, 2017 at 17:53
  • Then it is a question asking for specific advice. "How can I set up my billing to account for telecomms time?"
    – user4657
    Jun 6, 2017 at 19:33
  • 1
    @Nij Specific advice that requires a supported opinion - which is supported by Stack Exchange. There's nothing wrong with asking for specific advice, it's encouraged everywhere. Specific questions are how we thrive.
    – Zizouz212
    Jun 11, 2017 at 4:00

1 Answer 1


Normally, a lawyer must advise a client in writing of the basis upon which the client will be billed for services.

By far the most common way to do so is on an hourly basis with a fixed hourly rate for each professional in the firm, with time customarily kept to the nearest tenth of an hour.

Sometimes lawyers will instead bill on a flat fee basis for a particular task and include that in a fee agreement. This would have a set of services and the flat fee for each and might say that other services are billed on an hourly basis.

Still other lawyers will bill for their services on a contingent basis.

Sometimes, in practice, a lawyer will have some routine standard time increments that are billed for certain brief tasks, whether or not this is expressly spelled out in the fee agreement.

For example, most lawyers will charge a minimum of 0.1 hours for any kind of billable work (e.g. a brief e-mail or review of a court document that was received and instructions to staff to calendar any associated deadlines with the filing received), regardless of the actual duration, and many will charge 0.2 hours or 0.25 hours as a matter of course for all but the shortest of telephone conversations to reflect time spend preparing for and following up from the call and time spent transitioning from one task to another, and to avoid the necessity of putting every call on a stopwatch. Calls longer than 12 to 15 minutes are then billed based on actual length instead.

As a rule of thumb, 0.1 hours per short email in an email chain, and 0.2 hours per short telephone conversation of more than a few words, would be pretty normal, with longer amounts billed for a lengthy email or a long telephone conversation.

It also wouldn't be unheard of for a lawyer to have a set amount of time billed for certain common, short tasks, like drafting a motion for extension of time and getting it filed, or to have a flat fee for certain transactional drafting fees like drafting a simple will or a deed, or to have a flat fee for an initial consultation.

  • Hi, thanks, we have this sorted in terms of how we charge but I'm mostly interested in the "must advise a client in writing of the basis upon which the client will be billed for services." part and particularly how to acknowledge in our contracts that a text or email with a query or problem (e.g. production issue requiring investigation) is actually a work request and billable and not a free request because it was informal.
    – Dave
    Jun 11, 2017 at 21:43
  • 1
    Send them a statement that says so conspicuously when you sign them up.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 11, 2017 at 21:52

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