Most people don’t need a lawyer very often during their lives, but when they do, it’s usually a very important matter and money is almost always a concern. While most people expect legal advice to be expensive, when it’s time to discuss legal fees, many prospective clients don’t really know what questions to ask or understand the answers.
Legal fees are often based many factors, including the ability and experience of the attorneys, the difficulty of the case and the costs involved. There are a number of different ways that legal fees might be determined.
Initial Consultation Fee: The first consultation could be free or there may be a fee involved. Some are conducted in person, others can be done over the phone. Either way, always ask before scheduling or initiating a consultation.
Flat Fees: Many firms advertise a flat fee for simple legal issues such as simple traffic or family law issues. While flat fees are popular with clients, because it makes comparing firms easier, they are usually not available for more complicated legal issues.
Contingency Fees: Contingency fees are very common in personal injury cases, but might be used in other types of cases. If the case is lost, the lawyer will not be paid a fee at all, but the client is usually responsible for paying expenses. Contingency fees vary, but one-third is a common percentage charged by many lawyers.
Hourly Rate: This is the most common way in which lawyers bill clients. The lawyer’s time is normally billed for hours or fractions of an hour. Different legal services, such as time spent in court or doing research, could be billed at different rates. In larger firms, the more senior attorneys are billed at higher hourly rates than younger lawyers or paralegals. The attorney should be able to give an estimate of the costs for many legal services, but may not be able to give a firm estimate in a complicated case.
Retainers: A retainer is a down payment for future legal services to be billed at an hourly rate. Find out exactly how the retainer will be used since it is not handled the same way by all law firms.
Statutory Fee: The court may set a fee in some types of cases, such as probate or bankruptcy.