How, and How Much, Do Lawyers Charge?

How much are you willing to spend?

Legal services aren’t cheap, how much are you willing to spend? What are typical fee arrangements for legal services? How much can you expect to pay? What about expenses and court costs? How can you keep track of fees for legal services? What about free or low-cost legal services? What should you do if you are charged with a crime but can’t afford a lawyer?

When you’re shopping for legal services, always ask potential attorneys to fully explain their fees and billing practices. Don’t hesitate to ask detailed questions and don’t be embarrassed. A lawyer’s willingness to discuss fees is an important indicator of how he or she treats clients.

That are typical fee arrangements? Standard payment arrangements an attorney may suggest include:

Hourly rates, Flat fees, Retainers, Contingent fees

Hourly rates are the most common arrangement. Here, the attorney gets paid an agreed-upon hourly rate for the hours he or she works on a client’s case or matter until it’s resolved.

How much is an hourly rate?

It depends on each attorney’s experience, operating expenses, and the location of his or her practice. Cheaper is not necessarily better when it comes to your legal protection. A more expensive lawyer with a lot of experience may be able to handle a complex problem more quickly. Also, an experienced attorney will be able to better estimate how many lawyer hours a particular matter will take to resolve.

Flat Fees

Where a legal matter is simple and well defined, lawyers typically charge a flat fee. Examples of flat fee matters include wills, uncontested divorces and simple bankruptcy filings. If an attorney suggests or has advertised a flat fee, be sure you understand exactly what that fee will and will not cover. The flat fee might not include expenses such as filing fees.

Retainer Fee

A retainer fee is typically, but not always, an advance payment on the hourly rate for a specific case. The lawyer puts the retainer in a special trust account and deducts from that account the cost of services as they accrue. During the course of legal representation, clients should review periodic billing statements reflecting amounts deducted from the retainer. Most retainers are non-refundable unless labeled “unreasonable” by a court. If you decide to drop a case that your lawyer has worked on before the retainer has been exhausted, you may forfeit the remainder.

Contingent Fees

In certain types of cases, attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. “Contingent” means that the attorney takes no fee from the client, but gets a percentage typically one-third of the settlement or money judgment. Contingent fee arrangements are typical for plaintiff’s counsel in automobile and accident litigation, medical malpractice and other personal injury cases, as well as in debt collection cases.

Courts set limits on the contingency fees a lawyer can receive from personal injury suits. Of course, lawyers and clients are free to negotiate contingency fees less than the standard one-third. Contingent fee arrangements in certain kinds of cases such as divorce, criminal cases, or child custody cases are prohibited.

How much can you expect to pay?

Rates for legal fees vary based on location, experience of the lawyer, and the nature of the matter. Believe it or not, rates may vary anywhere.

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