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Old 28.05.2020, 13:28
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Excessive bill from lawyer

Dear Forum people,

I know that lawyers fees are always excessive, but the main reason why I'm writing this post is because I feel cheated by a person on which I put my trust (again: never trust a lawyer? Maybe)

Some time ago I requested a consultation meeting with a lawyer in Allschwil (she had been recommended by a colleague). The first meeting went well and I paid the consultation fee as expected (350 CHF/hour).

6 months later I needed another 1 hour consultation and we agreed on the phone about the schedule.
When I received the bill for the second meeting, it was 2 times more expensive than expected, the additional costs being from 1 phone call (which I made the schedule the appointment itself), 1 message left in the mailbox and 1 email (5 lines).

I paid what it was invoiced but I felt cheated (I understand that the recent lockdown could have impacted on the lawyer's business, but this is not a valid reason to overcharge the next client - not to speak about the feedback that an unsatisfied client will circulate within their network, as I'm doing now).

I wanted to ask to the Forum expert, do you think that I have the right to request a detailed invoice (i.e. the itemized list of services included the time spent in each service), I was provided the bill only by email (maybe I was charged for that one too)

If I don't agree with such a list (e.g. inflated telephone calls), what else can I do? Is suing a lawyer a viable option - I've already unsuccessfully requested a reduction of the bill - or I won't have any chance because "dog does not eat dog"?

Thanks in advance for your advices!
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Old 28.05.2020, 14:22
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

Dylan, if the second invoice was Fr. 700 (instead of the expected Fr. 350)...I would let it go. I would not look for an itemised break-down of the services, as the lawyer could EASILY say that she doesn't break down feeds per minute, but only by groups of....say 15min. So answering a 5 line e-mail is 15min. And another 15min. would be listening to your voice mail and answering. And so on.

Please forget about sueing. To my already very Swiss-accustomed ears it sounds not just excesive, but counterproductive. We don't live in a litigious society, and a law suit would cost thousands upon thousands, and waste valuable judicial system time.
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Old 28.05.2020, 14:32
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

Sounds normal, they will charge everything they do at a very high price. Photocopy a sheet of paper? 2 CHF.
For 700 CHF it's not worth the hassle in any case considering what you probably would have to spend pursuing.
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Old 28.05.2020, 14:32
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

Typical Swiss business practice. If no-one asks, charge whatever you like. If someone asks, charge them for saying how much you charge.


The other year my doctor started charging for when I made appointment changes (in advance).



A colleague of mine also had a similar experience from a female lawyer in Allschwil. Maybe it's the same person.
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Old 28.05.2020, 16:25
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typical swiss business practice. If no-one asks, charge whatever you like. If someone asks, charge them for saying how much you charge.
Ahahah

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A colleague of mine also had a similar experience from a female lawyer in Allschwil. Maybe it's the same person.
It is quite possible, I don't think that there are tens of lawyers in Allschwil

@Caleb:

Yes, the amount is in that range, I understand what you mean and I won't pursue a lawsuit.

Anyway, I believe that such a behaviour is very unethical and cowardly, as it takes advantage of another person in a state of need and possibly with limited knowledge or resource to defend her rights.

Not good sense of business either, very short-sighted.

I will wait for Karma (and try to help it by spreading the experience among my circle)

Last edited by MusicChick; 28.05.2020 at 16:40. Reason: merging consecutive posts
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Old 28.05.2020, 18:12
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

Charges may have arisen from the length or complexity of the phonecall before the appointment, and of the mail, and also if matter itself made it necessary for the lawyer to prepare something for you before you saw her, for exmaple by reading up on apparently conflicting sets of regulations, by determining which laws are likely to supercede others, by reading up on similar cases, comparing scenarios, checking whether any relevant judgments had recently been published on this topic which would change things for you since your first visit, etc., so at to be ready to advise you competently when she saw you.
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Old 28.05.2020, 18:48
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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When I received the bill for the second meeting, it was 2 times more expensive than expected, the additional costs being from 1 phone call (which I made the schedule the appointment itself), 1 message left in the mailbox and 1 email (5 lines).
You left out the bit where the lawyer did a bit of research etc before answer your email, so two hours. Seems like a reasonable amount in the circumstances.

Next time maybe ask for an estimate rather than making assumptions, that way you will avoid nasty surprises.
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Old 28.05.2020, 18:51
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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Ahahah



It is quite possible, I don't think that there are tens of lawyers in Allschwil

@Caleb:

Yes, the amount is in that range, I understand what you mean and I won't pursue a lawsuit.

Anyway, I believe that such a behaviour is very unethical and cowardly, as it takes advantage of another person in a state of need and possibly with limited knowledge or resource to defend her rights.

Not good sense of business either, very short-sighted.

I will wait for Karma (and try to help it by spreading the experience among my circle)
As you turned to the forum to actually ask if you could ask = talk to your lawyer about this, let's not use the word cowardly.
Allschwil has a population of 19’176, how big are the chances there is more than one female lawyer there? Let's not use the word ethical here either.

I wouldn't be surprised if the bill turns out to be perfectly correct yet we will never hear about that.

Last edited by curley; 28.05.2020 at 22:25.
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:14
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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You left out the bit where the lawyer did a bit of research etc before answer your email, so two hours. Seems like a reasonable amount in the circumstances.

Next time maybe ask for an estimate rather than making assumptions, that way you will avoid nasty surprises.
Jim,
maybe I did not explain myself...when I received the second bill, the additional time used to justify the expenses was only for 2 phone calls and 1 very short email.
I would not have objected if the service would have required further investigation (the topic was pretty standard, yet...).
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:29
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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As you turned to the forum to actually ask if you could ask = talk to your lawyer about this, let's not use the word cowardly.
Allschwil has a population of 19’176, how big are the chances there is more than one female lawyer there? Let's not use the word ethical here either.

I wouldn't be surprised if the bill turns out to be perfectly correct yet we will never hear about that.
Curley,
as explained before, I would not have felt this way if the bill had been justified by some additional work, beside the consultation one.
What bothers me is that I was charged 1 our more for two phone calls (very short ones, one used to schedule the meeting!) and one very short email.

To my customer I ask to pay just the standard service, not the time I spend to open the door or disinfect the desk after they leave, to make an example. Yet I do spend this time for them.
Nor I charge for the calls I receive in order to book a meeting or when I have to call back them for a short communication.

Maybe you think differently, but I do believe that this behaviour is unethical, professionally speaking.

And I used the adjective "cowardly" because, as a foreigner, I do not possess the same consuetude and degree of awareness of a Swiss person (save the language command) and therefore I am in disadvantage in identifying and successfully defending my rights.
I felt as I was taken advantage of, because of my condition.

Everyone can read and decide whether to agree or disagree, do I have the right to express my opinion, even when it might not be liked by everyone?
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:37
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

If I had received a bill that was much higher than I'd expected, I'd have written back:

Dear Ms Lawyer,

When I saw you on DATE-1, your charge was Fr. 111.
I was surprised, then, that for the consultation on DATE-2, your invoiced amout was Fr. 222.

Might your accounting department perhaps have made an error in this invoice? Would you please check, and let me know whether you think that the amount is accurate?

Thank you.
Kind regards


Source: experience.
On one occasion, the professional person explained a charge on the bill, which I had not realised was part of things, and I was quickly able to confirm with others, in the field, that that's how things are done in that profession. I accepted that, and learnt.

On the other occasion, I received a polite letter back apologising, with the explanation that item x had inadvertently been incorrectly added to my bill, and a refund of the relevant slice of what I had already paid, transferred into my account, within days.
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:47
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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as a foreigner, I do not possess the same consuetude and degree of awareness of a Swiss person (save the language command) and therefore I am in disadvantage in identifying and successfully defending my rights.
Perhaps this is the core. In Switzerland, the general idea is that each adult (and even child, often) is responsible for finding out what they need to know. Therefore, if you consult a lawyer, it is fully your own responsiblity to ask what the fees will be, and what kind of items will be billed, at what rate.

Business life here works like this: you want a service, you either
a) find out beforehand what it will cost, and which behaviours of yours will increase the bill,
or
b) don't ask about the billling schedule, and then just accept the full invoice when it arrives.

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I felt as I was taken advantage of, because of my condition.
Here in Switzerland, there is no sense of a service provider's having a duty to take special care for any disadvantages that a client may bring.

This is the same if you buy services from your car garage, a hairdresser or a shoemaker, or take a taxi ride. The onus is always fully on you to find out which prices will apply, and then to decide whether you are willing to enter into the deal, or not.

Last edited by doropfiz; 29.05.2020 at 00:07.
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:50
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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If I had received a bill that was much higher than I'd expected, I'd have written back:

Dear Ms Lawyer,

When I saw you on DATE-1, your charge was Fr. 111.
I was surprised, then, that for the consultation on DATE-2, your invoiced amout was Fr. 222.

Might your accounting department perhaps have made an error in this invoice? Would you please check, and let me know whether you think that the amount is accurate?

Thank you.
Kind regards


Source: experience.
On one occasion, the professional person explained a charge on the bill, which I had not realised was part of things, and I was quickly able to confirm with others, in the field, that that's how things are done in that profession. I accepted that, and learnt.

On the other occasion, I received a polite letter back apologising, with the explanation that item x had inadvertently been incorrectly added to my bill, and a refund of the relevant slice of what I had already paid, transferred into my account, within days.
Agree, in fact I had written a polite letter asking to explain the reason of the bill, it was that way that I received the list of the additional "services".

Again, it is not a matter of money (I paid the bill without any further objection)
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:57
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

Oh, and yes, it is standard practice that lawyers charge for every minute they are dealing with you or with your case, including all mails and phonecalls, every page (or part thereof) of text they read, every minute that they spend preparing anything for you, and for all disbursements, such as stamps, photocopies, and for receiving documents on your behalf, etc., etc.

That's not considered unethical; it is just the standard way that lawyer's practices work, and in some cases these tariffs may even be regulated.

Just in case you might ever need to consult a lawyer again later, here's a list, from another thread, of ways to keep lawyers' fees both lower, and more transparent:
https://www.englishforum.ch/2968341-post19.html

This principle applies to anyone you consult, whether it were an architect or a website designer or a dressmaker.

The point is always that, whenever you want the convenience of their doing it, you can just lean back and delegate things to them, and pay their bill at the end. Some people prefer that, and are happy to pay whatever it takes. Others want to do whatever they can to free up the time, so that that the specialis can provide only the professional service itself, and not any admin around that.
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Old 28.05.2020, 23:59
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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Agree, in fact I had written a polite letter asking to explain the reason of the bill, it was that way that I received the list of the additional "services".

Again, it is not a matter of money (I paid the bill without any further objection)
Oh? Well, then I seem to have misunderstood your thread, altogether. If you have been informed of a list of additional services, then, I'd have thought, it's all clear why you were charged what you were charged. Or perhaps I've missed something.
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Old 29.05.2020, 00:07
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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Oh? Well, then I seem to have misunderstood your thread, altogether. If you have been informed of a list of additional services, then, I'd have thought, it's all clear why you were charged what you were charged. Or perhaps I've missed something.
The sequence was the following:
- asked the consultation fee (rate/hour)
- used the services
- received the bill
- politely asked an explanation
- got the additional items (phone calls and email)
- got upset because disagreed on the item and on the overall time supposedly spent
- paid the bill
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Old 29.05.2020, 00:39
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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Oh, and yes, it is standard practice that lawyers charge for every minute they are dealing with you or with your case, including all mails and phonecalls, every page (or part thereof) of text they read, every minute that they spend preparing anything for you, and for all disbursements, such as stamps, photocopies, and for receiving documents on your behalf, etc., etc.

That's not considered unethical; it is just the standard way that lawyer's practices work, and in some cases these tariffs may even be regulated.

Just in case you might ever need to consult a lawyer again later, here's a list, from another thread, of ways to keep lawyers' fees both lower, and more transparent:
https://www.englishforum.ch/2968341-post19.html

This principle applies to anyone you consult, whether it were an architect or a website designer or a dressmaker.

The point is always that, whenever you want the convenience of their doing it, you can just lean back and delegate things to them, and pay their bill at the end. Some people prefer that, and are happy to pay whatever it takes. Others want to do whatever they can to free up the time, so that that the specialis can provide only the professional service itself, and not any admin around that.
I believe this is the core of the issue.
I don't expect to receive a privileged treatment because I am a foreigner, it is my entire responsibility as an adult to get the necessary information about any service that I intend to use and their costs.

Anyway, I disagree with your meaning of "standard practice".

If I enter a coffee shop and order a coffee, then I cannot complain that the cost is 5 CHF, because the price is exposed (most of the times) and it incorporates the chain of value of a product sold in a country with high cost of living.
But if the bill contains an additional 2 CHF for the sugar, I believe that it was not my responsibility to previously inquire about the possible cost of the sugar (or the cookie, or the napkin) and I have the full right to object, because:
1) charging the sugar it is not a standard practice
2) the price applied is evidently inflated

Likewise, I would not have opposed if the lawyer had added the time spent for her research, because her compensation is normally based on the time used to do her job.
On the contrary, I don't think that I should have asked for possibly costs of short service calls and email line, because to be charged for that I find it petty (which I can understand, albeit not justify, considering the past lockdown situation), unprofessional and excessively expensive.

Thank you for the link, I'll have a look before using another lawyer (I will need it soon)
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Old 29.05.2020, 11:07
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Re: Excessive bill from lawyer

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Anyway, I disagree with your meaning of "standard practice".
By the way, I'm not saying whether or not I think this practice is or ought not to be the right way to do things. I'm speaking from experience, that a lawyer's charging for each separate task and time unit, and all the sundry costs is the standard practice.

Here's an interesting summary of the various ways that lawyers charge, and how the client and the lawyer can agree on which model is to be used. Interestingly, it says that if one is using (as I think you were) the model of paying for time, then the smallest unit of time is 0.1 hours, which is 6 minutes.
https://www.swissanwalt.ch/rechtstipps.aspx?rid=130 (in German)

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If I enter a coffee shop and order a coffee, then I cannot complain that the cost is 5 CHF, because the price is exposed (most of the times) and it incorporates the chain of value of a product sold in a country with high cost of living.
But if the bill contains an additional 2 CHF for the sugar, I believe that it was not my responsibility to previously inquire about the possible cost of the sugar (or the cookie, or the napkin) and I have the full right to object, because:
1) charging the sugar it is not a standard practice
2) the price applied is evidently inflated
Your example stands, precisely because it is about the standard practice. Cafés don't typically charge extra for sugar and napkins, you're right.

The standard practice of lawyers, on the other hand (unless one has pre-arranged one of the other models for fees) is, indeed, to charge for every single item, including short calls and mails. That's the norm. It is not unprofessional; it is just the way that that particular profession's billing works.

Unfortunately, it stings many people who first discover this, the hard way, as you have done. But you'll be better prepared next time,and can clarify the tariffs at the outset.

Last edited by doropfiz; 30.05.2020 at 06:38. Reason: disambiguation
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