Answer: yes, lawyers can charge for travel time if certain circumstances are met, but the charges may vary.
In the article that follows, we’ll explain.
Can Lawyers Charge For Travel Time? (Discussion)
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Fee Agreements Control
In almost all cases, the attorney-client relationship is set forth in a written agreement that is reviewed and signed by both parties at the beginning of the case.
In that fee agreement, the attorney will generally lay out all the things that he will charge the client for, and how much he will charge for it.
In most fee agreements, the clients agree to compensate the attorney for all time invested in the case by the attorney.
This is one of the reasons many clients choose to hire attorneys who live and work very close to the court where the case is being handled.
While bringing in a bruiser from the big city a few hours away might make the client feel confident, the bill for the attorney’s time back and forth to show up for court, to review the scene, and to meet with the client can become astronomical.
In general, so long as the fees charged for travel are not considered ethically excessive, the attorney can and will charge for his travel time.
Complaining About Drive Time Charges
While it may stink to be charged for the attorney’s travel time, the client doesn’t have a lot of room to complain to the attorney about it.
First, the fee agreement that the client signed told the client it would happen.
Second, the client was the one who hired the lawyer who would need to travel.
It should not be a surprise to the client that the attorney would need to appear in person in court in the case, since that was what he was hired to do.
In Practice Though
In practice, many attorneys choose not to charge their clients for the full cost of their hourly rate for travel time.
In some situations, they will charge a reduced rate per hour (even though the fee agreement says he can charge his usual hourly rate).
In other situations, they will charge for one leg of the trip, and write off charges for the return leg home.
The reasons attorneys do this (even though they don’t have to):
- they feel bad about charging the client so much money for the drive time
- they don’t want to completely drain the client’s retainer before something meaningful has been achieved in the case
- clients love it when their attorneys ‘no charge’ time on their bills or give them credits for time spent, and it can help strengthen the relationship between the client and the attorney
To make the drive more affordable for clients, some attorneys will try and ‘stack’ meetings or court appearances in the out of town location so that the travel time could be split across multiple accounts.
Attorneys are not allowed to “double bill” (meaning bill full price to multiple clients for doing the same thing one time).
The attorney might also take phone calls with clients, investigators, or even other lawyers while driving to be able to legitimately bill other clients during the trip to make the trip more affordable.
To Avoid Dissatisfaction Over Travel Costs
As a client, it is best to have a discussion early on with the attorney about the costs the attorney intends to charge the client for travel.
Will it be hourly rate for drive time, per mile charges, or even gasoline?
Will the client pay for time spent on the road that was not driving, such as waiting in line to purchase items or eating?
Will the client be paying for the attorney’s food or lodging on overnight trips?
Make sure everyone is clear about what will be charged or not, and confirm those details in a follow up letter or email.
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