Before discussing how much a civil attorney costs, it is helpful to discuss exactly what a civil attorney does so you understand what is covered by those costs. Commonly referred to as litigators, civil lawyers are lawyers that are hired by private clients to pursue or defend a civil lawsuit in court.
The term “civil lawyer” is rather broad, as civil attorneys may specialize in some of the following areas of law:
- Business law;
- Bankruptcy law;
- Employment law;
- Finance law;
- Landlord and tenant law;
- Personal injury law; and
- Real estate law, to name a few.
Essentially, you would hire a civil lawyer for cases involving one party suing another under nearly any non-criminal theory of law. Just as criminal law is governed by criminal law statutes (i.e. laws that are created by federal and local legislators), civil law is also governed by statutes. Therefore, if you have a case that involves civil law, it is important to have a deep and thorough understanding of that specific statute that governs that civil action. This is why attorneys may choose to specialize in one of the forms of law listed above. In fact, some attorneys will even become “board certified” in a certain speciality.
How much a civil attorney costs will vary widely, as the costs are dependent upon a number of differing factors. Some examples of such factors include, but are not limited to:
- The area of law in which your attorney practices;
- The areas of law that you individual claim encompasses;
- The attorney’s level of experience, as well as their reputation;
- The difficulty of your case;
- The location in which the attorney practices, as different cities and states have different cost averages; and
- The amount of time that is spent either pursuing or defending your lawsuit.
What Factors Are Used in Calculating Civil Lawsuit Fees?
As mentioned above, there are numerous factors that are used in calculating civil lawsuit fees. Typically, the most important factor used in calculating civil lawsuit fees is the time that it will take to finish the case. This is because in civil lawsuits, the contracts between the clients and the attorney are most often hourly contracts.
In an hourly contract arrangement, the attorney agrees to take the case based on the client paying the attorney an hourly rate for work done, as the attorney accomplishes the work. Most often, the attorney will request an upfront retainer to start the case, and then ask that the client make sure the retainer is refreshed as work is completed on the case.
As an example, an attorney representing you in a personal injury matter may cost anywhere from $200 to $500 per hour, and require an upfront retainer of $1,000 to $2,000. If a civil attorney representing you on a personal injury matter is doing so on an hourly basis, they will work your case (i.e. file discovery to help you gather evidence, take depositions of key witnesses, and represent you in court) for just their hourly fee. These hourly fees will likely add up to costing anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000 or more depending on the time necessary to complete your case.
However, if an attorney decides to take your case on a contingency fee basis, they will not charge you an hourly rate, but rather the attorney will take on the costs of the suit and take a percentage of the amount of money that you recover related to your personal injury case. For instance, at the end of your case if you recovered $100,000 in settlement for the injuries you suffered, an attorney may take 35% of that settlement amount. This means that first $35,000 will be taken out to pay the attorney their contingency fee, and then your medical bills will be paid, and the rest of the funds will be released to you. Importantly, your medical bills may often be negotiated and reduced by your attorney.
Additionally, the contingency fee is determined up front prior to the attorney taking your case, and the fee often differs depending on the stage of the case when you receive payment. For example, if your case settles immediately, your attorney may only take 25% to 30%, but if the case goes to trial, an attorney’s contingency fee may be around 45% to 50%.
Further, if an attorney’s billable hours and expenses exceed what they gained from their contingency fee, you will not be responsible for those charges. Additionally, if your case does not settle in a favorable manner (i.e. you do not recover any damages) you will not be on the hook for the attorney’s bill. A majority of civil attorneys implement a contingency fee arrangement.
For simpler civil cases, if everything is agreed to by all parties involved upfront, an attorney may execute a “flat fee contract” to do the case. In flat fee contract arrangements, an attorney agrees to do a specified amount of work on the case for a one time payment. For example, in bankruptcy matters, an attorney may just charge a one time flat fee payment of $2,000 to complete the entirety of your case. However, if your case turns into a more complicated matter, then the attorney will then likely ask that the client execute a new contract that is based on the hourly work performed to finalize the case.
What Other Costs are Associated with Civil Cases?
As mentioned above, there are numerous costs that are associated with civil cases. Going back to the personal injury example you can expect the following fees for a typical personal injury matter:
- Court Filing Fees and Costs: At the onset of a personal injury case, an attorney will need to pay the court costs necessary to file/open the child custody case with the local court. These filing fees will be set by the local court’s fee schedule. Typically, a personal injury matter will cost anywhere from $200 to $500 to initiate the case. Once again, if your attorney takes your case on a contingency fee basis, they will likely cover these costs;
- Costs for Drafting the Original Petition/Complaint: The other big cost associated with beginning a civil law case, is the amount of time and work the attorney puts into drafting the original petition/complaint that begins the lawsuit. In an original petition/complaint for a personal injury matter, the attorney will outline what it is the plaintiff is seeking, and ask for the court to grant that request. Often the costs associated with drafting the original petition that gets filed at the beginning of the case is between $250 – $1,000 depending largely on the complexity of the case and the attorney’s hourly rate;
- Costs Associated With Dealing With the Other Parties: As noted above, if all parties agree to what is being sought in a civil lawsuit, then the costs of the lawsuit overall will remain low. However, if the other parties do not agree to what is being sought, an attorney will have to spend much more time to demonstrate to the court why the plaintiff’s request should be granted. For example, the attorney will have to file a response to the opposing party’s (also known as the respondent) answer to the plaintiff’s lawsuit;
- Costs for Drafting the Final Order: Just as there is a legal pleading that is necessary to start the case, there is also a legal pleading that is necessary to end the case. It is important to note that the final order in a civil law matter is often significantly longer than the original petition/complaint. In the case of a personal injury case, the final order will contain all the language necessary to settle all of the claims of all parties involved, and outline who is making the payment, the amount of payment, and how the payment is to be made; and
- Other Various Costs: In addition to all of the above, an attorney may also have to do other various tasks, such as communicate with their client, communicate with the other parties involved and/or their attorney, if they are represented, and make appearances on behalf of their client at court. Other costs may include attending a mediation prior to the final hearing, or negotiating a settlement agreement. In short, any time an attorney spends on a case will be billable in some way.
What Are the Advantages of Hiring a Civil Lawyer?
As can be seen, there are numerous tasks that an attorney must perform during a civil lawsuit. A civil lawyer will be knowledgeable on the local laws, as well as the federal laws, that go into completing a civil lawsuit. The advantages of hiring a civil lawyer are vast, but the most important advantage is that the civil lawyer will know every step that must be taken in order to comply with the local and federal laws and procedures.
In civil law matters, it is very important to make sure that you are following the rules outlined in the statutes, as well as the rules and procedures of the local court. If you do not follow the rules outlined by the statutes and the local court, then your case may be dismissed, and you may not be allowed to file another case. This means that you may not be able to get what you are seeking.
Do I Need to Hire a Civil Lawyer?
As can be seen, there are numerous steps necessary to have a successful civil lawsuit. Not only must you be knowledgeable of the civil law statutes that govern your case, but you must also be knowledgeable of the rules and procedures of the court where your case is filed. Thus, if you are planning to file a civil lawsuit, it is important to first consult with a local experienced civil lawyer in your area.
An experienced local civil attorney will be able to assist you in understanding your chances of success with your civil lawsuit. They will be able to assist you in filing your lawsuit, as well as helping you throughout the entire civil law process. Additionally, they will be able to draft all necessary/required pleadings, and represent your interests in court.