Understanding Hourly Billing in Family Law Firms: How It Works and How It is Calculated

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In the realm of family law, navigating legal proceedings can be emotionally and financially taxing. From divorce to child custody battles, individuals seek the guidance of family law firms to navigate these complex issues. One crucial aspect of engaging legal services is understanding how billing works, particularly in terms of family law hourly billing. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of hourly billing in family law firms, exploring how it functions, and how to calculate legal fees in family law cases.

What is Hourly Billing?

Hourly billing is a common method used by law firms to charge clients for legal services based on the time spent by attorneys and legal staff on their case. Essentially, clients are billed for the hours worked on their behalf, with rates varying depending on factors such as the experience level of the attorney.

How Hourly Billing Works in Family Law Firms

When a client engages a family law firm, they typically sign a representation agreement, or family law retainer agreement, outlining the terms of the legal representation, including the retainer amount and family law billing methods. A retainer is a fee paid in advance for the hourly billing of legal services. In the alternative, our firm refers to the retainer as trust funds. The firm does not earn the retainer until the attorneys or legal staff bills based on their hourly rate. If the law firm does not use all of the trust funds by the end of the representation, whether from the initial retainer or after adding more trust funds, the law firm will refund the remaining trust funds to the client.

Once the law firm is retained, the attorneys and legal staff will bill for their time spent on the client’s case as shown below in the following billing increments table:

Billing Increments
0.1 1 – 6 minutes
0.2 7 – 12 minutes
0.3 13 – 18 minutes
0.4 19 – 24 minutes
0.5 25 – 30 minutes
0.6 31 – 36 minutes
0.7 37 – 42 minutes
0.8 43 – 48 minutes
0.9 49 – 54 minutes
1.0 55 – 60 minutes


For Fontenot Law, clients will not be able to see the time spent on their case until the billing specialist runs the invoices. Fontenot Law generates invoices every other week so that clients can review billings more frequently. This bi-weekly billing schedule helps clients keep up with their invoices and maintain funds in trust more effectively compared to monthly billing.

Factors Affecting Hourly Rates

Hourly rates in family law firms can vary widely based on several factors:

  • Experience Level: Senior partners and experienced attorneys often require a higher hourly rate compared to junior associates or paralegals.
  • Demand: If attorneys are high in demand, the attorneys may charge a higher hourly rate in order to satisfy supply and demand equilibrium.

Calculating Hourly Billing

Hourly billing is calculated by multiplying the number of hours spent on a client’s case by the hourly rate of the attorney or legal staff working on the matter. This calculation yields the total fees owed by the client for the legal services provided.

Example Scenario:

Sarah’s attorney, Will, charges $350 per hour, and the paralegal, Angela, charges $275 per hour.

Preparation of Legal Documents – Work done by the paralegal:

Duration: 1.5 hours
Angela’s Rate: $275 per hour
Calculation: $275 (Angela’s rate) x 1.5 (hours) = $412.50

Negotiations with Opposing Counsel:

Duration: 0.3 hours
Will’s Rate: $350 per hour
Calculation: $350 (Will’s rate) x 0.3 (hours) = $105

Court Representation and Preparation:

Duration: 3 hours
Will’s Rate: $350 per hour
Calculation: $350 (Will’s rate) x 3 (hours) = $1,050

Total Hours Worked: 1.5 hours (documentation preparation) + 0.3 (negotiations with opposing counsel) + 3 hours (court representation) = 4.8 hours.

Total Fees: $412.50 (documentation preparation) + $105 (negotiations with opposing counsel) + $1,050 (court representation) = $1,567.50.

In this calculation, we’ve converted the duration of each task into points representing fractions of an hour and then multiplied them by the corresponding hourly rates for Will and Angela. The total fees for Sarah’s legal representation in her divorce case, based on hourly billing with a point system, amount to $1,567.50. This demonstrates how billing can be calculated with precision using a point system to represent fractional hours.

In conclusion, hourly billing is a common and transparent method used by family law firms to charge clients for legal services. Understanding hourly rates in family law can help clients make informed decisions when engaging legal representation for their family law matters. By familiarizing oneself with the intricacies of hourly billing, especially for legal fees in divorce cases and hourly billing for child support matters, clients can navigate the legal process with confidence and clarity.

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