If you find yourself involved in a legal situation, consulting and hiring an attorney may be in your best interests. However, legal representation does not always come cheap, as some attorneys charge a higher hourly fee than others. Typically in the legal industry, billing hourly is the most common type of fee arrangement.

This means that if you hire an attorney, they will charge you for each hour or every portion of the hour that they work on your case. Additionally, you may also be billed at a lower rate for work performed by the attorney’s paralegal or support staff.

Attorneys’ fees vary greatly, and attorneys can often bill anywhere from $0 to $2,000 or more per hour; this range of legal fees depends on several factors, such as the lawyer’s experience, notoriety, or the amount of time they spend on your legal issue. Thus, before you hire an attorney, it is important to ask them about their hourly rate and for an estimate of the costs to handle your particular legal issue.

Is it Better to Hire an Attorney at a Lower Hourly Rate or a Higher Hourly Rate?

It is practical to think about how much you are willing to spend on your legal issue. However, not every legal issue is the same. Thus, in some situations it may be better to hire an attorney with more experience that bills at a higher hourly rate, than an attorney with less experience that bills at a lower hourly rate.

As noted above, there are various factors that determine the hourly rate an attorney may charge to assist you with your legal issue. Common factors that influence an attorney’s cost include:

  • Experience: Experience is the most common factor that influences an attorney’s hourly fee. Typically, an attorney that has been practicing for a longer period of time will bill at a higher rate. The reason behind this is because an attorney that has been practicing for a longer period of time has a greater grasp of the law, has built more relationships, and generally is able to accomplish legal tasks in a more efficient manner than an attorney who has only recently begun practicing law.

    • However, this does not mean that an experienced attorney will always cost you more to work your case. For example, an experienced attorney may be able to resolve your legal issue in 5 hours at a rate of $500 (total of $2,500), while a lesser experienced attorney that bills at $200 may take 15 hours to resolve the same legal issue (total of $3,000);

  • Notoriety: An attorney’s notoriety or reputation is a different factor than an attorney’s experience. In the legal industry, it is common that attorneys from larger and more reputable firms to bill at a higher hourly rate than attorneys that work at smaller or less reputable law firms. Further, if an attorney is famous for representing high-end clientele, they will likely bill at a higher hourly rate than someone who has less notoriety in the legal community;

  • Jurisdiction: If you are facing a legal issue in a rural town, then attorneys’ will likely bill at lower rates. Typically, attorneys that practice law in more urban and populated cities bill at a higher hourly rate than attorneys who practice in smaller towns or rural areas. Further, an attorneys hourly fee may depend on the state, or even city, in which they practice.

    • For example, an attorney in New York or Los Angeles will bill at a higher hourly rate than an attorney in Wyoming or Montana.

  • Area of Law: The area of law also weighs heavily on an attorney’s hourly rate. Many legal issues require an attorney that is specialized in that field of law, which sometimes even requires additional schooling or licensure.

    • For example, an attorney that specializes in intellectual property, must also pass the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) registration exam, in order to be registered as a patent attorney. Thus, lawyers that specialize in particular areas of law, will typically bill at higher hourly rates; or

  • Type of Case: The particulars and complexity of the legal issue is another determining factor in determining the amount an attorney will bill. For instance, if you have a simple case that can be accomplished by any attorney in a short amount of time, an attorney will likely bill you at a lower hourly rate, than if you had a more difficult or complicated case.

Should I Keep Track of Legal Fees?

Yes, you should absolutely keep track of all of the legal fees that you incur. Additionally, if you choose to hire an attorney on an hourly fee basis, they have an obligation to bill you regularly and update you on your case.

Further, you should absolutely get any hourly fee arrangement in writing, in order to ensure that you are being billed as you agreed to be billed. In fact, many states require that an attorney’s fee agreement be in writing and signed by all parties.

Also, you should communicate with your lawyer if you have a cost limit as to how much you are willing to spend on your legal issue. This may lead to your attorney offering a contingent based fee structure or offering a flat fee cost structure for your legal issue.

Lastly, keeping track of your legal costs is very important if you should ever find yourself in a situation in which your attorney has breached the fee agreement. In the case of attorney malpractice, as it is in many cases, it is better to have more evidence than less.

Should I Hire an Attorney on an Hourly Fee Basis?

As can be seen, attorney’s fees vary greatly depending on numerous factors. Further, there are many advantages and disadvantages to agreeing to hire an attorney on an hourly fee basis. Having an experienced attorney to consult with and represent you may be in your best interest depending on the particulars of your legal issue.

Further, in many cases, such as in criminal law matters, hiring an experienced attorney can make a huge difference. Lastly, there are numerous options for getting the legal assistance you need, and some attorneys may even take your case “pro bono,” meaning at no charge to you.