Law offices generally charge either of two ways:

by the hour or

by the package.

A client needs to be educated about how lawyers charge. Misunderstanding as to attorney’s fees often causes internecine conflict between the client and his advocate which detracts from the actual hostilities in court. This is also the root of the often unfair (and sometimes well deserved) reputation of lawyers as greedy, grasping and gluttonous. Once you understand this you will see that in general lawyers are just like the rest of us. Like us they need to make a living, they are probably careful about what they spend, like us and have credits they found via Mozo. The way they bill is no different to how doctors or graphic designers do, although their system is slightly more complicated. But we are here to help you understand it.

There are advantages and disadvantages for the client in either of the two methods of billing especially taking into account the realities of the Philippine judicial system. In billing by the hour, otherwise known as time billing, the attorney’s fee is a function of time. The longer the case takes the larger the attorney’s fee. In billing by the package, the attorney’s fee for the entire case is agreed upon by the client and his attorney at the time of engagement. This is akin to progress billing in construction parlance, where portions of the fee are payable at certain stages in the case.

Time Billing

Time billing is advisable in cases where the duration of the case can be calculated with reasonable certainty.

The following characteristics of the Philippine justice system may guide the client in calculating his lawyer’s bills
  There is no trial by jury, in either criminal or civil cases;
  Cases usually are not tried in a continuous basis. Cases are adjourned from month-to-month or longer intervals, for one or two hours at a time.
  Postponement of hearings is a widely tolerated practice, except in construction arbitration cases.

Under the Philippine Constitution, the courts are given a definite period for resolving cases. In the case of the Regional Trial Courts, the trial courts where the cases are originally filed, cases must be resolved within "three months" after presentation of evidence by the parties and submission of the case for decision; in the case of the Court of Appeals, to which the decision of the RTC is appealed, "twenty-four months" from "date of submission;" the Supreme Court, "twelve months."

In reality, the above deadlines are honored more in the breach, especially in the trial courts. Note that the Philippines does not practice the jury system, where a jury of twelve working mothers or fathers may gripe at interminable proceedings, but follows the Spanish justice system where the judge alone decides on the evidence and the law. In one day, an RTC judge may hear 10 or even more cases at once, one hour at a time, the greater part being given to oratory and grandstanding by lawyers and the lesser part to the merits. Cases start with an exchange of "pleadings" by the lawyers, beginning with the complaint and answer, without court appearances, then midway enters a lull in the pre-trial conference where the parties meet either to compromise (which usually never happens) or agree on the procedure of the coming trial. Only thereafter do the parties actually present their witnesses before the judge whose attention is divided among the ten cases he hears each day. Trial is set from month to month or longer, one or two hours at a time, unless postponed by the untimely illness of lawyers (who are mostly malingering, if statistics of the same illnesses occurring in a cross-section of the population could be taken), or cancelled by the inexorable force of nature in a typhoon-prone country. Before a busy judge, an attorney may wait for two hours before his case is called. This is billable. By the time the judge is ready to make his decision, five years may have elapsed.

In short, time billing works against the client during the trial stage of a proceeding, only half of it being devoted to meaningful work.

In proceedings before the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, time billing is advantageous to the client, because there is no full-blown trials before these courts. Mostly, cases are decided on the basis of pleadings containing meticulous analysis and citations, which bear the lawyer’s struggle with the yards-thick records and the English language. Hearings are rarely conducted, and when they are, usually once or twice for an hour at a time to clarify certain issues. The constitutional deadlines for the resolution of cases are usually followed by these superior courts.

Package Billing

Package billing is billing for a fixed amount. It could be a specific sum without qualifying percentages or, in collection cases, a fixed sum plus a percentage of the amount recovered.

For the reasons stated above, this mode of payment is advisable at the trial stage.

On appeal which may or may not happen, the client then may agree to a time billing or (and why not) insist on a package deal.

Payment may be made in three installments - upon acceptance of the case, after pre-trial and after presentation of evidence, or upon submission of the case for decision.

 



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