Lawyers are subject to many rules and regulations. It is the attorney’s responsibility to follow the laws of the state in which they practice, as well as any rules set up by the courts in their county.

Attorneys may also receive certifications issued by their states for specific areas of law, such as criminal, family, wills & trusts, and personal injury.

To protect your interests and limit the attorney fees you pay, it’s important to understand the court systems attorneys operate in.

How Is Hourly Billing Calculated?

Several factors determine a lawyer’s hourly rate. There are several factors to consider, including the lawyer’s experience, the complexity of your case, and the average hourly rate in your area. Larger law firms also tend to charge more per hour than smaller ones. Some attorneys charge different rates depending on the task at hand. For example, a higher hourly rate for court work and a lower rate for research.

Find out exactly what is included in your hourly rate. If other staff work on your case, such as secretaries and paralegals, their time may be added. Additionally, the attorney’s out-of-pocket expenses and other costs are often billed in addition to the hourly rate.

What Is a Contingency Fee?

Have you ever seen a television advertisement featuring a confident lawyer in a suit stating they won’t get paid unless you do? Especially since the attorney essentially talks about being paid on a contingency basis, these ads sound extremely appealing to many people facing legal issues.

A contingency fee agreement allows an attorney to be paid a percentage of damages awarded at the end of a case instead of being paid an hourly rate. Contingency agreements require the attorney to take on a case without charging their regular hourly rate. The attorney is paid a certain percentage of the damages that the client is awarded after the case.

Depending on your state and the agreement’s specifics, contingency fees can range from 5% to 50% of the final award. However, the lawyer does not receive a fee if the client loses the case. Payment to an attorney is contingent on winning the case.

The lawyer does not receive their fees until the end of the case (and unless it is won), but the client may be responsible for a few up-front fees related to the work on the case. The client may be responsible for filing fees, discovery costs, expert witness fees, and other overhead fees to move their case forward.

When Are Contingency Fee Agreements Used?

Contingency fees are useful when a client is short on funds but has a complicated or expensive case. Lawyers specializing in civil litigation accept cases only when there is a clear liability and a mechanism for collecting a judgment or settlement, such as the defendant’s insurance policy. If liability is unclear or the case is considered too risky, the attorney may not accept the case on a contingency basis.

Contingency fee agreements are most often used in civil cases like personal injury and workers’ compensation cases, although attorneys may accept work on a contingency basis in other circumstances, such as:

  • Professional Malpractice;
  • Sexual Harassment;
  • Personal Injury;
  • Employment Discrimination and Wage Dispute Cases;
  • Bankruptcy;
  • Class Action Lawsuits; and
  • Debt Collections Cases

How Much Can a Lawyer Take in Contingency Fees?

The amount of the contingency fee depends on several factors. Fee structures vary among lawyers, and the contingency fee can vary depending on the case. Most contingency fees are around 33%-40% of the final award but may be higher or lower depending on the case value and agreement with the client.

A copy of the fee agreement in writing is always a good idea to understand exactly what the fee arrangement entails and how much you agreed to pay.

What Should I Ask When I am Looking for a Lawyer?

When you consider hiring a lawyer, you should ask several important questions.

Education and Experience
Hiring an attorney with experience handling cases like yours is important. Therefore, you should ask the attorney whether they have relevant (and recent) experience in the area of law at hand. You should also inquire about the attorney’s legal education.

Professional History
A lawyer’s professional history is also important to inquire about. Ask the lawyer if they have ever been involved in a fee dispute. Another important question is whether the lawyer has ever been sued for malpractice and how the lawsuit was resolved. You should also ask the lawyer if they have ever been disciplined by the state bar. It is important to inquire about the nature of the disciplinary procedure and its outcome if the answer to the last question was “yes.”

Should the lawyer refuse to answer any of these questions, or if you do not wish to ask them, you can usually find this information on your state bar’s website.

Contact Information
Clients often complain that their attorney does not answer the phone. Nonetheless, your attorney might be swamped with work and may not be able to take your call. This is why you should ask when and how you can reach them (by phone, email, or in-person).

Some of these questions may seem intrusive, but you should not be afraid to ask them. In addition to paying your lawyer a substantial amount of money, you are trusting them with great responsibility. The more information you have, the better.

How Do I Sue a Person?

To sue a person in the United States, a plaintiff (the party bringing the lawsuit) must:

  1. Establish a claim in a court
  2. Write a well-pleaded complaint
  3. Serve the defendant with notice

How Are Attorneys’ Fees Calculated?

In terms of attorneys’ fees, hourly rates are the most common. An attorney’s hourly rate can vary greatly based on experience and location. Although a cheaper lawyer may be more accessible, a more experienced and expensive lawyer may be able to handle your case more effectively. While you are at the consultation, you should remember to ask for an estimate of how many hours you can expect to pay for.

When the services being provided are predictable, flat fees are generally charged. Therefore, asking the lawyer what services and expenses are included in the flat fee is important.

In a contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer charges no fee but earns a percentage of the settlement or judgment, if any is awarded. In general, contingent fees are one-third of the settlement or judgment and can be negotiated. In some cases, contingent fees are prohibited.
A retainer fee is an advanced payment based on an hourly rate. A lawyer deducts fees from a client’s account as services are completed. The client is responsible for reviewing the account periodically and should know that the retainer fee is generally refundable if the lawyer does not use it.

Statutory fees are fees set by law. Depending on the state, the court may set or approve legal work fees. No matter what type of fee structure is agreed upon between you and your attorney, you should always obtain written proof of the agreement.

You may also be required to pay certain expenses and the lawyer’s fees. These should be discussed before hiring a lawyer, and they should be willing to provide explanations of these charges with each monthly bill. Please review your response carefully to determine which expenses are included in your legal fee and which expenses will be separate.

A client generally pays for the following expenses:

  • Photocopying charges;
  • Long-distance telephone charges;
  • Courier, postage, and overnight delivery charges;
  • Filing fees;
  • Court reporter and expert witness charges; and
  • Reasonable travel and transportation charges when necessary.

A client generally does not pay the following expenses:

  • Standard secretarial and office staff services;
  • Standard office supplies;
  • Local telephone charges;
  • In-town meals; and
  • First-class travel costs, as well as out-of-town meals without restrictions.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you have been involved in or are considering filing a lawsuit, you should speak with your attorney about your case. A lawyer with experience in this area can help you understand the laws of your state regarding this matter.

Attorney Billing Practices

Meeting With an Attorney

Court Procedures