In order to understand how much a lawyer will cost, you must first determine and understand which field of law the lawyer practices. There are many different fields of law in which an attorney may practice. The two main areas of law are criminal law and civil law. Criminal law deals with state or federal prosecutors bringing criminal cases against a person that has violated a federal or local criminal law. Civil law deals with private lawsuits that are brought by one party against another party.
Under the umbrella of civil and criminal law, there are numerous other more specialized areas of law. For example, under the umbrella of civil law, an attorney may specialize in one of the following fields of law:
- Business law;
- Employment law;
- Family law;
- Finance law;
- Contract law;
- Intellectual property law;
- Immigration law;
- Landlord and tenant law;
- Personal injury law; and/or
- Real estate law.
The reason it is so important to first determine the area of law involved, is because that will likely determine which attorney can handle your case, and whether or not that attorney will have to have specialized training.
What Factors Are Used When Determining Lawyer Fees?
Once you determine the area of law in which you are seeking an attorney, there are other factors that are used in order to determine lawyer fees. Some examples of such factors used when determining lawyer fees include, but are not limited to:
- The attorney’s experience level and reputation. When determining lawyer fees, an attorney’s fees, whether it be flat fees or hourly fees, will be influenced by their level of experience and reputation. For example, an attorney that has practiced in an area of law for 20 years, may charge a higher hourly rate than an attorney that has recently begun their practice. The reason the more experienced attorney may charge a higher hourly rate is because they will be able to accomplish tasks involved with a case more quickly, or may have more knowledge to solve more complex legal issues;
- The difficulty of the case. For simple matters, whether civil or criminal, there are numerous attorneys that will be able to assist a potential client with their case. For example, in criminal law, numerous attorneys can represent a client on a speeding ticket, which means the fees associated with those cases will be lower, as there is a bigger pool of attorneys available to handle the case, and the work associated with the case is low. However, in cases where an individual has been charged with a crime that carries heavier penalties, such as felony matters, a more experienced attorney will be necessary to provide a proper legal defense;
- The location of the case. As with all things, costs associated with an attorney will also be somewhat influenced by where the case is occurring. For example, attorneys that practice in big cities will often charge higher fees than attorneys that practice in smaller or more rural areas. This is because of the difference in the cost of living between different cities and states; and/or
- The amount of time spent on the case. As noted above, most attorney-client contracts for legal services will be hourly fee agreements. Because most attorney-client contracts are hourly fee arrangements, the amount of time estimated to complete the case will factor heavily into determining the overall cost of a lawyer. This is why it is important to communicate with an attorney up front regarding how much time they estimate they will bill to complete a case. Experienced attorneys will be able to provide better estimates of the amount of time they believe necessary to complete a case. This is because experienced attorneys have completed numerous cases, and have seen many different scenarios play out. It is important to note that every case is unique, which means an attorney’s fee estimation will not always be accurate;
In addition to the above, there are numerous other factors and costs that must be considered when determining lawyer fees. There are some cases in which an attorney’s fees will be easier to determine.
For example, for criminal expungements, the contract used is often a flat fee contract. This means that instead of charging hourly, an attorney will charge for the complete service of expunging the past criminal record. Criminal expungement flat fee contracts are often between $1,000 to $2,500, depending largely on whether or not the past crime is a misdemeanor or felony. In civil law, flat fee agreements are also used in cases where an attorney is confident of the work involved in the case. For instance, flat fee agreements may be used for bankruptcy cases, or estate planning cases, such as drafting a last will and testament. The costs for drafting a last will and testament will range between $200 for a simple will all the way to $1,000+ for a more complex estate.
In the case of hourly fee agreements, an attorney will often provide an estimate of how much they believe the entire case will cost during the initial consultation. Initial consultations in most cases are free, but in some cases an attorney may charge a small fee between $50 and $250 for the initial consultation. During the initial consultation it is important to discuss the fee retainer with the attorney.
A retainer is an advanced payment of fees that is paid by the client in order to secure the services of the attorney. As an attorney performs work they will bill against that retainer, and will expect that a client refreshes the retainer, as necessary, in order to continue with the case. For example, in a divorce case involving children, an attorney will often require an upfront retainer of $1,000+ in order to cover the initial costs of preparing the petition for divorce and paying the initial filing fee costs.
What Other Costs Are Associated with Lawsuits?
As noted above, there are numerous factors that are used when determining an attorney’s hourly fee. In addition to an attorney’s hourly fee to perform work on the case, there are other various costs associated with lawsuits. Some examples of other various costs associated with lawsuits include:
- Filing Fees: As mentioned above, each case will have a court cost associated with the case. For example, a typical initial filing fee for a civil law case is $300. This fee is paid to ensure that your case is initiated, and the court creates the time necessary in their schedule to hear your case. The cost also pays for the court staff and personnel that is necessary to conduct the hearing on your case. In addition to initial filing fees, there will also be fees associated with any additional filings. For example, an attorney may have to file a motion into the case, which will also carry a filing fee cost (typically less than $10);
- Service Fees: In addition to filing fees, service fees may also be associated with your case. For example, in child custody matters, personal service will be required on the other parent. This means that someone must physically provide the original petition and other documents to the other parent. After serving the other party, the process server (i.e. the person who served the legal paperwork) must file the return of service with the court. After that point, the clock will start ticking on the other party providing an answer to the lawsuit. If they fail to file an answer, the party that initiated the lawsuit can then move for a default judgment, and provide evidence to the court that the other party was properly served. Service fees will be higher in some cases than in others, as some opposing parties may try to dodge or avoid service. In those cases, more money will have to be spent to higher a private service process, or pay for repeated attempts at service;
- Expert Witness Fees: As noted above, there are some cases that involve a higher level of expertise to prove the case in chief. For example, in medical malpractice cases, an expert witness will be necessary to demonstrate to the court what the physician should have done according to the rules of the medical practice. Experts are also used in other cases where an expert is needed to demonstrate what duties the other party had and how they failed in their duty, or to explain to the court the complex terms of the case. For example, accident reconstructionists may be used in personal injury cases to reconstruct the accident and paint a better picture for the court. Often cases that involve the use of specialized expert witnesses will be more costly than cases that do not involve the use of expert witnesses; and
- Client Communications: Other than the time spent drafting the legal pleadings, an attorney’s next highest billed cost will be the cost spent communicating with their client. Attorneys will often bill at tenth of an hour increments when communicating with their clients. For example, if an attorney has a $300/hour hourly fee, and they have a 30 minute phone conversation with their client on the status of the case, they will bill .5 of an hour, which would equate to $150 being charged against the retainer. It is important to note that attorneys will often have a support staff, such as law clerks or paralegals that will help to reduce the cost of client communications.
- For instance, the same 30 minute conversation regarding the status of the case with a law clerk may only cost $50 if the law clerk is billed out at a rate of $100/hour. Attorneys also charge for other client communications, such as emails sent on the case. Using the attorney’s hourly fee above, the attorney may charge one tenth of an hour, or $30, for each email they send, or $10 if the email is sent by the paralegal/law clerk.
What are the Advantages of Hiring a Lawyer?
As can be seen, there are numerous tasks that an attorney must perform during a lawsuit. The attorney will also have to be knowledgeable of both local and federal laws involved in the lawsuit, as well as the local rules of procedure. Any mistakes involving criminal or civil procedure will often end in bad results for the client, such as their case being dismissed in civil matters, or criminal charges.
The advantages of hiring an attorney is that the attorney will be familiar with not only the law involved in the lawsuit, but how the entire legal process works. For example, not everyone knows the local rules of civil and criminal procedure, or the local rules of the court. Some courts may require certain things be done in some actions, and if they are not performed, that court may throw out the entire suit. An attorney will be able to ensure all procedures are properly followed. Additionally, they will be able to draft all of the required pleadings, and file them on your behalf.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
As can be seen, there are a lot of factors and costs involved in determining the cost of an attorney. There are also numerous advantages of hiring an attorney, instead of attempting to pursue a lawsuit on your own. Thus, if you believe that you are in need of an attorney, LegalMatch is a good place to start to find an attorney. LegalMatch will be able to get you in touch with an experienced and local attorney in your area that specializes in the field of law your particular case involves. That lawyer will then be able to advise you of your best course of legal action, and represent you in court, as necessary.