Explaining attorney fees and charges
IMMIGRATION CORNER - Michael J. Gurfinkel (The Philippine Star) - December 8, 2019 - 12:00am

Many people want to retain an attorney to assist them with their immigration case, represent them at hearings or interviews, etc., especially during this era of Pres. Trump, where USCIS is taking a very hard line on immigration. People understand now, more than ever, it is helpful to have attorney representation, rather than trying to handle their case on their own.

But there is mystery and confusion with people about attorney fees: how will they be charged? Do they have to pay all cash up front? Can payments be spread out?

There are two main ways attorneys charge for their services: hourly and flat fee. For hourly, the attorney charges the client based on the amount of time the attorney spends on the case, at the attorney’s hourly rate. This type of billing can be problematic for some people, if they want to budget, plan, or save for the attorney fees. With an hourly rate, it’s hard to know how much the attorney fees will be because they don’t know how much time the attorney will spend on their case.

Most immigration attorneys bill at a flat rate, including me. This is where the legal services are listed in a written retainer, and a total/flat rate is given for those services, regardless of how much time the attorney spends providing the services. The client is given a fixed amount, enabling them to better save and budget to pay the fees. They would also be advised of the estimated expenses outside the Retainer Agreement, such as filing fees, etc.

Ordinarily, attorney fees are not paid all cash up front. (Of course, there could be exceptions where the client might have a deportation hearing the next day.) Usually, attorney fees require a down payment and monthly payments. The monthly payments could be calculated based on the amount of time it would take the attorney to perform or complete the services. If the case will take three or more years (such as a labor certification or family petition case), the payments could be spread out for several months or years.

Before signing the retainer, the client will know what services are included and how much the total cost will be. If they want to retain the attorney, they can do so. If they do not, they can walk away.

I hope this has removed some of the mystery about attorney fee or charges, and if you believe your case requires attorney representation, at least now you know it’s not all cash up front, and you could be billed at a flat rate.

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