Q. I had a lawyer for a small case that recently ended, and I feel the hourly charges he has could be inflated. What can I do?
— Client

A. You need to look more closely at the attorney’s bill.

Ask the attorney for the breakdown of the hourly charges, said Anthony Vignier, a certified financial planner and attorney with Vignier Investment Group in Kearny.

He said the attorney should detail how much time was spent in court, research client meetings, with telephone calls, etc.

“They should then look at the retainer agreement which should spell out how the hourly billing occurs and if every single item is done by the attorney or a paralegal,” Vignier said. “If a paralegal is involved the retainer should spell out what their rate is.”

After reviewing the hourly breakdown and retainer agreement, if anything seems askew, Vignier recommends you meet with the attorney in person to discuss the bill to see if anything can be worked out.

“If nothing can be worked out, the client could choose to pay what they feel is fair and leave the ball in the attorney’s court,” he said. “The attorney may let the matter go or send them a demand letter asking for full payment.”

If the attorney does that, the attorney is required to advise the client of their right to fee arbitration, Vignier said.

Vignier said an attorney in New Jersey cannot file a lawsuit for legal fees without providing a notice of fee arbitration.

“In that notice, the attorney has to give you information for the district fee secretary and advise you that you have 30 days from the date of the notice in which to file a fee arbitration request form,” he said. “If you do not file the form within 30 days from the notice date, the attorney can file a complaint for their fees after 30 the days.”

If you file the form, the matter will be arbitrated, Vignier said.

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.

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