If you are the target of internet defamation, sextortion, or other online harassment, your first questions are probably, “How can I get this removed or put an end to the online abuse — and how much will it cost me?”
At Minc Law, we pride ourselves on transparency and understand that the costs of legal representation are at the forefront of your mind. We have litigated hundreds of internet-related lawsuits across the U.S. and helped thousands of clients remove more than 50,000 pieces of content, so we know exactly what questions clients have about the billing process and what clients should look out for when reading their legal invoice.
We want to ensure that you are thoroughly informed and prepared for your upcoming (or current) legal engagement, whether it is with us or another law firm specializing in internet defamation and online harassment. Familiarizing yourself with the below information will better help you understand the potential costs you might incur so that you can confidently know how every dollar is spent.
The primary costs and fees typically associated with internet-related legal engagements include:
- Legal services performed by your attorney or paralegal;
- Court and case costs for pleadings, subpoena production, investigation, or appeals;
- Fees for local counsel assistance;
- Travel and lodging costs;
In this post, we walk you through the different types of payment structures attorneys use, what kinds of costs you can expect to incur during the life of your internet-related matter, how to interpret your attorney’s invoice, and what to reasonably expect out of your attorney-client relationship.
How Internet Defamation Attorneys Bill Clients & Collect Fees
The terms of payment make up one of the basic principles of the attorney-client relationship. While an attorney will discuss the exact terms during your initial attorney consultation, the following three pricing structures are generally employed by attorneys:
- Retainer fee;
- Contingency fee;
- Flat fee.
Keep reading for a closer look at each pricing structure.
What is a Retainer Fee?
With attorney retainer financing, a deposit or a down payment for legal services to be rendered in the future. Many attorneys, particularly those who charge clients on the basis of an hourly rate, will require a retainer upfront to begin working on your case.
Once the attorney begins work on your case, they will bill their hourly fee against this retainer on a monthly basis. Generally, you should not need to pay more money until your retainer is depleted (used up).
Billable time is the time that an attorney is actually working on your case, such as:
- Responding to emails or phone calls;
- Engaging in legal research;
- Writing motions;
- Any other work related to the case.
Lunch breaks, office chatter, and other non-work-related activities should not be billed to the client.
Most attorneys work on an hourly basis and bill in 6-minute increments. This means that every hour is divided by ten. For example, if an attorney’s billable rate is $300 per hour and they billed you 0.6 hours for a time entry, $180 ($300 x 0.6) would be deducted from your retainer.
At Minc Law, our attorneys’ hourly rates range from $250 to $600 per hour, while our paralegals and law clerks bill at hourly rates of $100 to $150. You can find the hourly rates for each Minc Law attorney over at our Pricing Page.
To learn more about retainer fees agreements, including what they are, the key benefits of using them, and how much our starting retainer fee is at Minc Law, we recommend checking our the video below on the subject by Minc Law Paralegal, Melanie Hughes.
What is a Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee arrangement refers to an agreement where an attorney accepts a fixed percentage of the recovery paid to the client instead of other payment. This means that an attorney does not get paid for their services until they secure a favorable settlement or win a judgment. Many contingency fee agreements state that the attorney is entitled to 33% of a settlement, which then increases to 40% in the case of a trial.
You will often see a contingency pricing structure utilized in cases where a plaintiff sues an entity for money, such as property insurance claims or accident cases involving personal injury. This is when those “We don’t get paid unless you win!” commercials come into play.
Know that when you agree to a contingency fee arrangement, you are usually still responsible for paying any court costs and other litigation expenses, like the cost of expert witness services or private investigators — whether you win or settle out of court. These costs and litigation expenses may be deducted from the monetary award you receive.
While contingency fees are popular in some legal niches, this type of fee structure generally only applies to extraordinarily unique circumstances for internet defamation and online harassment cases. These arrangements are not usually practical for online defamation and other internet-related cases because the remedies sought out are usually injunctive, not monetary, and large payouts are rare.
What is a Flat Fee?
A flat fee arrangement is a fixed fee for legal work. The fee will not change regardless of how much (or how little) work is done on a specific matter, since it is an all-encompassing price.
Flat fee charges are most commonly used for routine legal matters such as:
- Some traffic ticket offenses,
- Basic wills.
Much like a contingency structure, flat-fee arrangements are usually not suitable for defamation and internet harassment-related cases. There are so many unique factors that can affect a defamation matter on a case-by-case basis that it would be impractical to set a specific fee for most matters and still deliever quality legal services.
Minc Law does offer guaranteed content removals for certain cheater sites and public shaming websites for a flat, reasonable fee. We are also willing to work with clients in many cases that don’t involve litigation on a flat fee if they give us a particular budget that can’t be exceeded. However, these exceptions still do not include many types of hourly matters or lawsuits that are too unpredictable to lend themselves to this arrangement. For further reading about the flat fee cases we do take on, make sure to check out our detailed blog post breaking down how much-guaranteed content removals cost.
Minc Law Tip: Legal terminology can be overwhelming and confusing for a lot of clients. To make things easier, we have compiled a comprehensive guide to understanding basic legal terms you might encounter during the course of your legal engagement.
Costs & Fees Associated With Your Internet Issue
In some cases, your internet-related matter might cross state lines. As a general rule, attorneys can only practice law in a state where they are licensed — and trying to practice law in a location where they are not licensed is a quick way to get themselves disbarred.
There are however several exceptions to this rule. Attorneys may provide legal services in another state that do not require a court appearance (such as arbitration or mediation) or when admitted “pro hac vice.”
If your attorney needs to file a lawsuit in another state for you, they can employ a local attorney to assist with this task. This person is referred to as a local counsel.
The local counsel will work jointly with your primary attorney (or “lead counsel”), but they will usually draw up a direct contract between themselves and the client. If your case requires local counsel, it will be your responsibility to cover their fees.
Court Fees & Case Costs
During the course of your defamation or internet-related legal engagement, you will run into expenses that need to be paid to move your case along. Your attorney will usually handle them for you and add them as expenses on your invoice.
Most court fees and case costs fall under one of the following ten categories:
Depending on your jurisdiction, you are likely to incur costs when filing any type of pleading with a court. In North Carolina, for example, you can expect to pay $20 to file a motion. The most common types of pleadings include:
- Discovery documents.
2. Subpoena Production
Often in internet defamation and online harassment cases, your attorney will need to compel an individual or entity to provide identifying information about a perpetrator. For example, you may need to obtain a perpetrator’s IP address from an online hosting platform.
Your attorney will do this by issuing a subpoena, which can be a costly process. Depending on the type and complexity of the subpoena in question, the cost can be anywhere from $50–$2,000 and beyond.
3. Process Server
A process server is a person who delivers and serves legal papers, files court papers, and retrieves legal documents. A process server’s primary job is to serve legal documents to a defendant involved in a legal case, putting them “on notice” of impending legal action.
There are professional process servers, but government officials like sheriffs, deputies, marshalls, or constables also fill this role from time to time.
Fees for process servers can vary depending on several factors, including:
- The distance they must travel;
- The location of the server or the person they need to serve;
- Whether the server needs to conduct research to find the person’s location;
- The number of attempts the server makes to deliver the paperwork;
- Whether it is a rushed or same-day delivery.
Usually, process server costs range from $50–$300.
4. Private Investigator
A private investigator (PI) is a professional who provides investigative services and analyzes facts in a variety of case situations, such as personal, legal, and financial concerns. Private investigators are sometimes hired by attorneys in both civil and criminal cases to help bolster a case. Their job often includes:
- Performing surveillance,
- Preparing reports,
- Conducting background searches,
- Interviewing people,
- Gathering intelligence,
- Assisting in locating missing or elusive people,
- Providing courtroom testimony.
The cost of hiring a private investigator can range from $40–$200 per hour, depending on the complexity of the case and your location.
5. Expert Witness
An expert witness provides testimony on their field of expertise as it relates to the case at hand. For a criminal matter, this expert may be a psychologist or a medical examiner.
For civil matters, you might see an engineer or forensic accountant testify based on their analysis. If your case goes to court and you need to depose an expert witness or put them on the stand, you will generally see an hourly charge reflected on your invoice for their services.
6. Court Reporter & Transcription of the Court Report
A court reporter attends hearings, depositions, proceedings, and any other type of event that needs a written transcript (a verbatim, read-along copy of a court event).
As the plaintiff, you will be responsible for paying the court recorder fees, which vary by jurisdiction but average a few cents to a few dollars per page. Court reporters also provide the courts, legal counsel, and parties copies of transcriptions, which is an added cost.
A legal video specialist may sometimes be present in the courtroom to capture the proceedings on video. Many legal professionals prefer videos to transcripts since the video preserves body language and tone that a written record will not.
Many videographers charge a flat rate for their services, which can range from $200–$400.
If you lose your case, you have the right to appeal it. However, appealing the decision comes with its own set of costs.
The case must be transferred to the appellate court, which incurs transfer costs on a per-page basis to transport the certified record to the appropriate court. This process can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the case.
Other costs associated with appeals include:
- Court fees,
- Clerks’ fees,
- Computer fees,
- Legal research fees,
- Legal news fees.
9. Postage & Office Supplies
Often, a law firm will charge for the cost of office supplies or postage back to the relevant client. At Minc Law, we bill postage costs back to the client anytime we mail something for their case using certified or regular mail.
We do not generally charge clients for copy paper or faxes, but some firms do have individual copier codes for each client. This system allows them to track the paper and fax costs to bill back to their clients.
Finally, if your case requires your attorney to travel for court, a court reporter’s office, or out-of-town mediation, you will be responsible for covering any (reasonable) costs they incur.
- Mileage: If the attorney drives to another location for your case, they can charge a per-mile rate to your bill. Generally, each state has a set amount that the attorney can charge.
- Airfare: If the attorney must take a plane, you will be expected to cover the cost of a reasonably-priced flight (i.e. economy class).
- Lodging and meals: If they need to stay overnight for your case, expect to see a reasonable cost for a hotel room and meals on your invoice.
Legal Services Performed by Your Attorney or Paralegal
Now that we have covered the external costs associated with local counsel and case-related fees, it is time to examine the internal fees associated with your attorney’s law firm. The total cost of your case will include any work that your attorney puts into the matter, including:
- Drafting and proofreading documents including summons, complaints, motions, subpoenas, exhibits, letters, discovery, etc;
- Legal research including case law on LexisNexis and Westlaw, news publications, points of contact, background information on defendants, etc;
- Preservation of evidence;
- Preparation for hearings, depositions, trial, etc;
- Filing pleadings with the court;
- Third-party services like mediation, arbitration, or negotiation;
- Communications and phone calls with you, others in the firm, opposing/local counsel and other parties involved in the case, publications, and outside attorneys regarding your matter.
Things Clients Should Not Be Billed For
Unfortunately, there are some attorneys who try to take advantage of their billing system to maximize profit from each client. When you hire an attorney, it is best to be aware of the kinds of things you should NOT be responsible for, including:
- Unnecessary duplicative work — If two attorneys have a conference meeting with the client and one attorney did 90% of the talking, the second attorney should not bill the client for the entire meeting.
- Training and seminars — Like any other business, a law firm will often hold interoffice meetings or staff training that has nothing to do with your case. Attorneys are also required to complete yearly continuing legal education (CLE) credits to maintain their license. Your attorney should not bill you for these things because they are not directly related to your specific matter.
- Administrative work done by paralegals and secretaries — Attorneys generally should not bill for administrative work that is part of the paralegals’ and secretaries’ normal duties.
- Communications regarding billing and accounting — If you call your attorney with a concern about your bill, they should not bill you for the time they spend going over it with you.
Minc Law Attorney Search Tip: A good way to make sure you are choosing a trustworthy, experienced attorney is to check their reviews. Aside from their own website or Google, you can also search attorney databases like Martindale, Avvo, or AmericanBar.org to see their reviews, jurisdictions, and any disciplinary records.
How to Read Your Legal Invoice
Receiving an invoice from your attorney can be overwhelming at first, but now that you know the kinds of charges your matter can incur, you will be better prepared and there will be no surprises.
The invoices themselves should list out all the information you need to understand what your attorney is charging you for — and what they have done so far on your case.
If your attorney employs a retainer and hourly rate, every invoice should include the same basic information:
- Professional services provided to you in the previous month;
- The person(s) who performed those services;
- The hourly rate charged for those services;
- The total amount of time spent on your case;
- The remaining amount of your retainer;
- The balance due;
- Courtesy discounts (these are discretionary and are usually 5–15% of the amount of the invoice. Our firm, for example, gives them in exchange for prompt payment, reserving the right to remove them if that does not happen).
Understanding Your Minc Law Invoice (With Sample)
When you hire Minc Law, you will receive an itemized invoice like the one below every month. This itemized invoice will cover all the basic information you need to know about your case’s status and your ongoing costs.
The top section will include your personal information, your matter number and information, and the invoice number. It should also include a link to make a payment and the date that the balance is due.
Below is the Fees section. The Fees section will show an itemized timeline of all the professional services provided to you in the previous month. From left to right, each row will provide the date, the initials of the individual who performed the action, the service provided, how long the action took, and the cost incurred during that action.
The Time Summary section will list the full names of the attorney (or other individual, like a paralegal or law clerk) whose initials were listed in the fees section. It will further break down their hourly rate, the amount of time (in hours) they spent on your case in the previous month, and the total amount you will be charged for their services for that month.
Underneath that, the Expenses section will itemize any external expenses incurred in your case, such as subpoena services, court costs, travel, etc.
The Statement of Account section will provide an overview of your prior balance, plus any new fees and expenses, payments and adjustments, and current amount due. Beneath that will list all recent Payments and Adjustments associated with your case.
Finally, the Trust Activity will show a timeline of your retainer and itemize the deductions against that retainer as work is done on your case over time. It will show how much is left in your trust to be put towards the cost of your case.
Disclaimer: Sample Invoice below is for educational purposes only.
Reasonable Attorney-Client Expectations
In this section, we will address four reasonable expectations that you should have for your attorney, along with the expectations they have of you for an ideal attorney-client relationship.
Your lawyer is required by law to keep their clients reasonably informed. At the minimum, they should communicate to you when:
- The case is filed,
- Settlement demands or offers are made,
- Key motions are filed and resolved,
- A case is dismissed.
An ideal attorney-client relationship is one where you feel confident that you can ask your attorney questions and receive responsive, patient answers.
You should also be able to ask for a general overview of your case on request — but remember that attorneys are busy, so it is a good idea to be reasonably patient. Generally, you can expect a response from your attorney within 24 hours.
Your attorney should have a thorough knowledge of deadlines, procedure, and general principles in their specialized area of law. For example:
- A contract attorney should be able to draft clear, unambiguous contract language.
- A trial attorney should be comfortable in the courtroom.
- An appellate attorney should have excellent writing skills.
- A defamation attorney should not be timid or afraid of conflict (after all, when you are suing someone for false accusations or defamation, there is going to be conflict involved).
While attorneys should always have a sound grasp of the skills necessary for their branch of law, keep in mind that you should not expect your attorney to know all aspects of the law on command. They may need to conduct research on a specific matter relating to your case, and that is normal.
Attorneys should act within the limits of the law at all times. They should fulfill the duty of loyalty owed to the client by not engaging in matters that result in a conflict of interest, and making only truthful and honest representations to the client and the court of law.
Your attorney should always practice ethically and abide by the rules of professional conduct. This includes, at the minimum, maintaining separate financial accounts for client funds and attorney funds.
For example, at Minc Law, we hold client funds in an IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account) that is monitored by the Ohio State Bar. This trust account is reserved exclusively for client funds and is never mixed with operating funds or attorney income.
4. Clear Fee Structure
Whether an attorney accepts your case on an hourly, flat fee, or contingency arrangement, it is imperative that the agreement be established at the outset and be in writing.
If your lawyer does not provide you a written contract and instead tells you that a handshake agreement is good enough, you would be best advised to look elsewhere for legal representation.
If you are paying for hourly matters, expect to receive an invoice on a monthly basis. Your attorney should also explain any anticipated costs upfront, so there should not be a big surprise in your monthly bill.
It is not standard practice, for instance, to bill a client for $10,000 worth of mediation or airfare that the client was not aware of beforehand.
The Ideal Attorney-Client Relationship
It is best to think of your attorney-client relationship as a partnership. Now that we have gone over what to expect from your attorney, what kinds of things will your attorney expect from you?
Communication is a two-way street. If you expect your attorney to tell you what is going on in your case, do the same for them. Keep them advised of any updates that might be relevant, and be available for conversations about your case. Try to respond within 24 hours, especially if it is concerning something time-sensitive.
Let your attorney know your preferred method of communication, whether that is phone, email, or regular mail — and keep them updated anytime you move or your contact information changes. Nothing is worse than trying to get an answer from a client about a settlement offer, but then realizing they have moved or changed their phone number.
2. Receptivity & Open-Mindedness
Sometimes your attorney may give you news you did not want to hear. If things take an unexpected turn, try to have realistic expectations.
For instance, no matter the level of your injury, you cannot expect to sue Google for a billion dollars in fact, you cannot even expect to sue Google at all (see our article “Can I Sue Google?“). You may feel your defamation or internet-related injury deserves a specific amount in restitution, but the realistic end result is all but guaranteed to be much lower than that.
Try to remember that your attorney cannot control everything about your case. Do your best not to be hostile; instead, work with your attorney to address any case weaknesses and develop a strategy to resolve your claim.
3. Participation in Your Case
For some legal matters, you might be able to let your attorney do all the work. Those types of cases may only need your signature, and that is it.
But there are many other areas of law that are very discovery-heavy — especially in litigation matters. In those cases, your attorney will require your active participation. If your attorney requests documents, evidence, or information, try to set aside the time needed to supply them with what they are requesting.
After all, in those types of cases, it is often the case that the more evidence you have, the better the chances that you will have a satisfactory settlement.
Minc Law Evidence Preservation Tip: If you are gathering evidence for your upcoming case with your attorney, make sure to (1) take screenshots of any online interaction or instance of defamation, (2) save any direct communications between you and the defamer, (3) keep track of any damages you or your business have incurred as a result of the defamation. The earlier you start gathering evidence, the better.
It cannot be said enough: Do not lie to your attorney. Do not destroy evidence or omit facts.
After all, how can your lawyer help you prepare for something they are not aware of?
An attorney can deal with bad facts. If they are aware of something that is not ideal for your case ahead of time, they can often work to minimize its impact.
On the other hand, lying to your attorney will often be worse for you. The facts almost always come out eventually, so you would be better off if your attorney was not caught off-guard with them at an inopportune time.
5. Timely Payment
Contrary to what you might think, most attorneys do not enter the legal practice for money. If they do, they will be sorely disappointed.
As much as attorneys love what they do, it is their job — and they have their own livelihood, families, and bills to worry about. If you do not expect your doctor, your barber, or your landscaper to work for free, please do not expect your attorney to work for free.
There may be times where you may need an extension on a payment; just work with your attorney. They will often work with you to set up a payment schedule that works for you.
But for the most part, try to pay your bill on time. Falling behind on your payments could stop your case, even if you are in the middle of litigation.
Have an Internet-Related Issue? Work With Experienced Internet Attorneys Today!
Choosing an attorney can be a difficult and confusing task — and the task of understanding all the costs and billing systems involved can be the most challenging of all.
There are many costs and fees associated with legal representation, including hiring outside professionals, court costs, and legal services. You should enter into an attorney-client relationship with an understanding of what costs you are responsible for, how to interpret your invoice, and what to expect from your attorney in terms of professionalism and ethics.
It is also important to understand what is expected of you as a client so that your attorney-client relationship can be as fruitful and rewarding as possible.
“As is often the case, only the courts can remedy obscene behavior from sociopaths. Rather than spend money on public image consultants, I would highly recommend Daniel and his team for a more effective solution through the judicial system.”
From a Lawyer, August 8th, 2021
If you are the target of internet defamation, online extortion or sextortion, or other internet harassment, contact us to schedule your free, initial no-obligation consultation. You can reach us by calling us at (216) 373-7706, speaking with a Chat representative, or filling out our online contact form.
To read up further about what you can expect after contacting Minc Law, along with the information we require from you to best maximize your consult, make sure to read our blog post, “Thinking About Contacting Minc Law? Here’s What to Expect.”