Why Does It Cost So Much?

Explaining Attorney Fees, Filing Fees, and Other Expenses

Pile of Money

Why are Attorney Fees so high?

Attorneys have to earn enough to cover office expenses, salaries, and taxes just like every other business. An attorney is a specialist who has gone to law school and passed the Illinois bar exam. Our office has years of experience and we know our way around the Courts, especially at the Daley Center.

Our office has a positive reputation with some of the judges. We charge more than a young attorney going into practice on their own because we know a lot more. We charge less than law firms who are trying to make as much money as they ethically can off of every client because we want people who can’t pay high hourly rates to have their legal needs met.
Attorney Fee Components

Why do I have to pay Filing Fees?

Filing Fees pay for the ‘paper work’ that has to be done when a case is filed: Who is filing, where do they live, do they have an attorney, etc. As the case proceeds, a record needs to be kept of other documentation filed as well as documenting the court dates and what happened at each one.
At this time (early 2024), it costs $479 to file a Decedent’s Probate Estate.

Filing for a divorce costs $388 for the Petitioner (the one filing) and $250 for the Respondent (the one responding).

The fees may also be there to discourage people from filing frivolous law suits.

Why can’t you represent me for a flat fee like I see in ads?

We would love to charge a flat fee for representing our clients in court. Most flat fees you see in ads are based on best-case scenarios. Very rarely do these best-case scenarios happen in real life when the case is going to court. Here are some of the reasons we have to appear in court multiple times:

  • The judge may want to base their decision on evidence which is not available in court that day.
  • The other side is not prepared so the judge tells them to come back another day.
  • Lawyers and judges can get sick or take vacations.
  • The lawyers may be covering more than one case and are in a different court room when the judge is ready so he tells them to come back another day.
  • There are steps that judges take to avoid a trial, such as conferences with the attorneys or sending the case to mediation which means they have to come back another day.

All of this means that it’s very hard to estimate how much time the attorney will spend in court. Every hour that they’re spending in court waiting for the judge to get to their case is time they can’t be spending on something else.

courtroom scene

How will you determine how much I need to pay?

You have to pay Filing Fees (if any) and the Attorney Fees.
There may be extra expenses like a Court Reporter or a Special Process Server or Publication Fees.
Based on the amount of fees, special charges, and the amount of time that we think the case will take, the attorney comes up with the amount of money they will ask for up front (also known as a RETAINER).
The Retainer may be a flat fee if the amount of time is very predictable, such as writing a will.
For cases that are very hard to predict because the amount of time they will take is unknown, such as there being Court Appearances and the other side has an attorney involved, the Retainer is how much we hope it will cost.

So You Tell Me How Much, I Give You the Money, and I Have to Trust You to Do the Work?

Not at all. When you have decided to hire the attorney and they have decided to take your case, you both sign a Legal Services Agreement. This is a contract between you and the attorney. You have rights and responsibilities and they have rights and responsibilities.
picture of LSA

What is a Retainer?

A retainer is like a deposit on the case that we have to have before we start work on the case. The amount is based on the amount of fees and time that we think the case will take. If it takes more time than we estimated, you will receive a bill telling you how much additional you need to pay that month.

ARDC rules about Retainer

How Do I Know What You’re Billing?

The individuals working on your case keep track of how much time they spend on it–research and preparation, court time, phone conversations or emails with you and/or the other side. These bills are sent to you every month showing you how much of the charges have been covered by the retainer and how much more you need to pay.

bill equals small

Do I get any of my retainer back if it costs less than estimated?

Yes. Our office has to keep the retainer money in a special account (required by law) and we can only transfer money out of the account after you have received a bill that describes the work we have done on the case. If you believe a charge on the bill to be incorrect, contact us right away to have it corrected. If you do not contact us within a few days of when we send the bill out, we can assume you agreed with the numbers and we can transfer the money from the retainer account to our checking account.
If there is still some of your money in the retainer fund after the case is concluded, you will get that balance returned to you.
picture of a check or “you’ve received money” or something

What if I can’t pay my bill after the retainer is gone?

Call us to discuss it. We prefer a partial payment to no payment at all. If the amount you owe gets too large, work on your case will be stopped until you can reduce the balance owed.

Hold On Case

What if I still owe money when my case is finished?

You are legally responsible for the balance. You signed the Legal Services Agreement which is legal contract with our office when you gave us the retainer and signed the agreement. We will go to court to collect our fees if necessary, which may mean garnishing your pay check. We’d rather not do that but this is a business, not legal aid.
add garnishment illustration

Do I have to pay the balance all at once?

Talk to us about your situation. We might be able to set up a payment plan. Sometimes, if clients have a credit card, they will authorize us to submit a payment every month until the bill is paid. It is not fair to our office for you to not pay–we have completed our side of the bargain and you have not–but we understand that keeping a roof over your head and having food to eat is important.

Coins to Pay Balance

Will anyone but Mr. Nordgren work on my case?

That is spelled out in the Legal Services Agreement you signed when you gave us the retainer. Our staff changes periodically–we might have another attorney, a pre-licensed attorney, a paralegal, or law student clerks in the office (see Staff for more information) and they are billed at a lower rate than Mr. Nordgren. Mr. Nordgren oversees all work his staff does, but he delegates as much as he can so that you have to pay less. You will be able to see on the monthly bill who put time in working on your case.

sample bill sm

Click here or on bill to see it more clearly

You’ll charge me for writing emails and telephone calls?

We charge for emails and telephone calls because it’s time we’re spending on your case and not on someone else’s case. We charge by tenths of an hour so our smallest charge is 6 minutes. We keep track of how we spend all of our time but only bill you for what we spent on your case.

Before you call our office, figure out what questions you have so that the phone call does not involve long periods where you’re trying to remember what your last question is. Take notes if you can, so you don’t keep calling with the same question. Try to make your emails clear and to the point too. This makes us happy, because we can answer your questions but keep the amount of time (and cost) down.

phone caller 2