When you're deciding whose legal services will best suit your needs, remember to fully review each lawyer’s profile. Choose a lawyer who has fully explained their fees and billing practices. A lawyer's willingness to publish their fees in detail is an important indicator of how he or she treats clients. This should also help reassure you that your lawyer doesn’t have any hidden agendas. Fees are based on several different factors. They depend on your lawyer’s experience, operating expenses that they feel your case will cost, the nature of the matter (how complex the case is), and several other factors. Standard payment arrangements between a lawyer and their client:
Hourly rates: Hourly rates are the most common arrangement. The lawyer gets paid an agreed-upon hourly rate for the number of hours he/ she works on a case until it's resolved. Rates may vary anywhere from $50 an hour to a $1,000 an hour or more. Location may also play a role in how much you will pay for an hourly rate. In rural areas and small towns, lawyers tend to charge less. Rates ranging from $100 to $200 per hour for an experienced lawyer are probably very typical. In major metropolitan cities, the rate will typically be closer to $200 to $400 per hour. Lawyers with expertise in specialized areas may charge much more. You can also expect to be charged an hourly rate for paralegals or law clerks. A paralegal's rate may be billed out at $50 to $100 per hour or more. Time spent on things like drafting documents by other legal office staff will often be billed out at $25 to $50 an hour, depending on who drafts the documents.
Flat fees: When a legal matter is simple and well defined, lawyers will often charge a flat fee. If a lawyer offers you a flat fee, make sure you understand exactly what that fee includes. It might not include expenses your case will require, such as court costs, filing fees, secretarial time, and delivery charges. Little things add up. It is important you are aware of all of the miscellaneous costs you are responsible for so that you can estimate those costs up front and avoid an unexpected surprise.
Retainers: A retainer fee is typically an up- front bulk payment for a specific case. The lawyer puts the retainer fee in a trust account and deducts the cost of services from the retainer as they accrue. Throughout the course of your case, you should periodically ask for the billing statements reflecting amounts deducted from the retainer. It is your money, so it is your responsibility to make sure your lawyer is using it in a reasonable manner. If you decide to drop a case or fire your lawyer before the retainer has been exhausted, you may forfeit the remainder.
Contingent fees: A contingency fee means that the lawyer doesn’t get paid unless you get paid. They get a percentage (typically one-third) of the settlement or money judgment. Contingent fee arrangements are typical for automobile, personal injury, claims of medical malpractice, and debt collection cases. This arrangement is prohibited in certain kinds of cases such as divorce, criminal cases, or child custody cases. While courts do set limits on the maximum percentage of contingency fees that a lawyer can receive from personal injury cases, lawyers and clients are free to negotiate contingency fees for less than the one-third maximum set by the courts.