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Using billable hours is a bad system that won't go away. It is bad for the client and the attorney.

Most attorneys get paid based on a system of billable hours. You are billed based on the hours an attorney spends working on your case.  Most family law attorneys in the area charge $350 - $400 an hour (some as high as $600).​

This high price might be understandable at a prestigious firm that hires the top law school graduates. But this is what you pay to hire a family law attorney in San Bernardino County who went to an unranked law school - usually Western State, University of La Verne (my school), Whittier School of Law (closed) or Cal Western (recently ranked one of the worst law schools in the country). 

The system as set up encourages the attorney to do more work, extend the case, and bill more and more hours. There is no incentive to work quickly and efficiently. In fact, there is real incentive to take as much time as possible so you can bill as much as possible. The attorneys' bosses are constantly harassing them to bill more.

I worked at a family law firm. Here is what I was taught regarding billable hours:

1. Bill, Bill, Bill. You were expected to bill as much as you could for any case you were working on. Senior partners constantly monitored your billable hours.

2. Burn through the deposit as quickly as possible. If a client had money from a deposit in our trust account, we were told to bill that client as much and as soon as we could.

3. Be creative. Find ways to bill the client. Talk to them on the phone. Take more time on assigned tasks. File more paperwork. Use a different description for the same work.

​​A bill from your attorney will often be confusing. This is not a mistake. New attorneys are taught how to manipulate the billing system to charge more. Their survival depends on their ability to do this.

The system is bad for attorneys also, as it puts unreasonable pressure on them to bill more and more - often unethically. This is especially true with new attorneys.


Doing family law should be easy. It is not difficult law. There is not much writing or research. Most cases are not complicated. It is made difficult by the obsession with billable hours. You are constantly pushed to bill more hours. It is no surprise that stress and overbilling are common in attorneys.

Using a system of billable hours to charge clients is a bad system that refuses to go away. It encourages attorneys to overcharge their clients. It puts unnecessary pressure on attorneys. But as long as firms are profiting the system will never change.
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