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How Much Does a California Bankruptcy Attorney Cost

If you have a stack of bills and debt collectors won't leave you alone, it may be time to talk to a California bankruptcy attorney. This article will explain how bankruptcy lawyers charge for their time.

Several factors can influence the cost of hiring a lawyer, including:

  • The billing method the lawyer uses
  • How much the lawyer charges within that billing method
  • How long it takes until your bankruptcy is finalized
  • The amount of related legal expenses, such as filing fees and mandatory personal financial management education
  • The attorney's billing method is as important as how much he or she charges you. Bankruptcy attorneys in California typically use one of two billing methods: An hourly fee, in which you pay for the actual time the attorney works on your case, or a flat fee.

    Under either billing method, you may also be responsible for other legal expenses related to handling your bankruptcy. Additional fees include:

    • Court fees
    • Trustee fees (a trustee is the person assigned to oversee the bankruptcy)
    • Consumer counseling fees
    • Personal financial management education tuition

    You may also be billed separately for other items not included in the lawyer's fee, such as photocopying, travel, or use of a paralegal.

    A lawyer's rates aren't necessarily carved in stone. But if you want to negotiate any changes to the legal fees, these must be negotiated before you hire a California bankruptcy attorney. You can discuss money matters when you interview an attorney prior to hiring him or her. Once you've hired a lawyer, it is too late to change the fee structure.

    Hiring a California Bankruptcy Attorney by the Hour

    Whether you live in Northern or Southern California, when you pay a bankruptcy attorney by the hour, you will often be asked to pay a retainer fee, similar to a down payment. You'll then receive monthly bills for the hours your lawyer worked on your case.

    California bankruptcy lawyers who bill by the hour usually break the hour down into either one-quarter (15 minute) or one-tenth (6 minute) increments. This may seem like a small difference, but it does add up.

    Say you talked to your lawyer by phone for five minutes. If the lawyer charges $200 an hour in 15-minute increments, you'll pay $50 for that conversation. With a lawyer who charges $200 an hour in 6-minute increments, you will pay only $20.

    A lawyer's hourly fee is influenced by many things:

  • The amount of experience the lawyer has
  • Your location
  • The complexity of the legal matter
  • The cost of overhead in running the firm or office
  • Don't assume you'll pay more just because a lawyer charges more. An experienced lawyer might be more efficient, thus saving you money.

    Hiring a California Bankruptcy Lawyer for a Flat Fee

    Lawyers who handle fairly routine matters, such as writing a will and filing bankruptcies, may offer their services for a flat fee. You may still have to pay court fees and other related costs. If you are interested in hiring a California bankruptcy attorney for a flat fee, make sure you understand exactly what is and is not included in the price.

    How and when you pay your flat fee will vary from attorney to attorney. You'll want to know what kind of payment plan your attorney offers before you hire him or her.

    In addition, flat fees are usually not refundable, which means if you change your mind about the bankruptcy or your lawyer, you will not get your money back. If you have any doubts, discuss this before hiring an attorney on a flat fee.

    The Cost of Hiring a California Bankruptcy Attorney

    As you can see, you need to ask a lot of questions about legal fees before hiring a California bankruptcy attorney. Here are some questions that should help clarify the matter for you:

    • Do you charge by the hour or a flat fee?
    • What does your hourly or flat fee cover? What is not included?
    • What other legal expenses will I have? Can you estimate their total?
    • Is there room for negotiation regarding your fee?
    • If I pay a flat fee, what kind of payment plan do you offer?
      • Once you have the answers to these questions, you'll know how much it costs to hire a California bankruptcy attorney.