If you are in need of a lawyer for the first time in your life, you are susceptible to shysters. Before heading in to visit with any attorney, you should educate yourself on how retainer agreements work, what to watch out for, and the basics of attorney’s fees. Here are those basics. Welcome to Legal Fees 101: A Guide to Attorney’s Fees.
The Contingency Fee. If you have a civil case – for instance, if you were involved in an accident and suffered personal injuries – you will likely enter into a contingency fee agreement with a personal injury attorney. Typical contingency fee agreements state that your lawyer will not get paid unless and until you receive money from your case, either through a settlement or verdict after trial. These agreements also typically state that your personal injury lawyer will advance all expenses to be paid back by you only when and if you collect money from your case. The typical contingency fee agreement splits the recovery as follows: Two-thirds to you; one-third to your attorney, after reimbursement of expenses.
The Flat Fee. For other types of cases – such as a criminal case – the attorney may offer you the opportunity to pay a flat fee. This is a single fee paid once, usually up front in its entirety. This flat fee should cover all work performed in connection with your case from beginning to end. The trouble with this is that sometimes the lawyer loses interest in your case once the check has cleared. However, it could save you a great deal of money in the long run, as compared to paying your legal fees at your lawyer’s hourly rate.
The Hourly Fee. In many types of cases, attorneys charge by the hour. Hourly rates can range anywhere from $50 to $1,000 per hour. Typical rates for an experienced attorney range from $300 to $500 in major cities. You will most likely be required to pay a substantial retainer up front. That money will be place in your attorney’s Trust Account, and he will be able to move the money from his Trust Account to his Operating Account as the money is earned. You should receive a regular accounting of all work performed. You should be aware that the attorney will charge you for brief phone calls you make to him, and will usually round up.
With any of these fees, be sure to read your retainer agreement carefully, and ask plenty of questions so that you know exactly what you are getting yourself into.