WACO, Texas — and Nava hired Waco attorney Breccia Marie McDermed in September 2018. Nava said she paid a $1,500 retainer fee and was told that the amount should cover costs until they got to court.
"She told me at the very beginning, 'This is what we are going to be working off of. I might have to bill you more later,'" McDermed said. "As far as just getting into court, she said we shouldn't have any more fees until we started our court hearings."
Six months later, Nava said the other party had still not been served and she got a bill for another $1,700 from McDermed. Nava later realized McDermed had charged her more than $950 for text message correspondence.
"It's just explanations for things. It's not like she had to put a lot of thought or time into any of it," Nava said. "It just sounds like a regular conversation."
Nava sent 6 News several of the texts from McDermed, which contained long explanations regarding procedures in response to her texts asking about progress. On Nava's bill, charged between $19.50 and $97.50 for the messages. A few were free.
According to 6 News legal expert Liz Mitchell, there are no rules prohibiting attorneys from charging for text message communication. Mitchell said any communication about a client's case from a hired attorney could come at a cost.
"If you are asking your attorney questions about your case, and you signed an agreement that says you are paying by the hour, it doesn't matter that it was by text message or email or telephone call," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the costs depend entirely on the contract a person signs with their attorney. Attorneys can charge a flat fee, by the hour, or by a fraction of an hour. That means a client could have to pay for a whole hour of work regardless of the amount of communication.
"Even saying, 'What is the status of my case? When is my trial date?' Those might seem like flippant things but it is taking the time of the attorney to look into the answer and respond. And it is general practice that you are billing on an hourly basis," Mitchell said.
Looking at Nava's contract with McDermed, text messages were listed as work subject to McDermed's hourly rate.
Mitchell said clients need to have a crystal clear understanding of how they will be charged by an attorney before signing a contract.