Lawyer hourly rates are those rates a lawyer, also called an attorney, charges for an hour of their work time. If an individual finds themselves in a legal dispute, consulting and hiring a lawyer is in their best interest. 

Legal representation may be expensive, and each lawyer charges a different fee based on many factors. In general, hourly billing is the most common type of fee arrangement used for legal services.

An hourly fee system means that if you hire a lawyer, they will charge you for every portion of each hour they work on your case. Additionally, the lawyer may use their paralegal or support staff to perform work on your case. If that occurs, a lower hourly rate is usually charged.

The hourly rate a lawyer charges can vary greatly. They may bill anywhere from $0 to $2,000 or more per hour. Where the lawyers legal fee lands in that range depends on many factors, including:

  • The type of case;
  • Experience;
  • Ability;
  • Notoriety;
  • The amount of time the case may take;
  • Travel costs;
  • Costs involved in the case; or
  • The area in which they work.

Before hiring a lawyer, it is important to inquire about their hourly rate and request an estimate of the cost of handling a particular legal issue. There may, of course, be deviations to this estimate depending on the case and how it progresses.

An average lawyer rate per hour is between $100 and $300 but may increase to $400 depending on the experience level and type of case. Attorney fees may cover things such as:

  • Advice to the client;
  • Research for the client’s case;
  • Resources needed to work on the case;
  • Paralegal research for the case;
  • Filing fees;
  • Travel expenses;
  • Delivery charges;
  • Document photocopies and production; or
  • Phone calls with clients or necessary individuals for the case.

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

Whether to hire an attorney that bills at a lower hourly rate or higher hourly rate is an important decision. It is, of course, practical to decide how much an individual should spend on their case before hiring an attorney. 

It is important to remember that not every type of legal issue is the same and some cases are more difficult and complex than others. In some situations, it may be better to hire an attorney that charges a higher hourly rate and has more experience than to choose an attorney with a lower hourly rate and less experience.

All attorneys must attend law school and pass a bar examination in order to practice law. They all possess the same basic education. However, some may specialize or have extra training in certain areas, which may be beneficial if an individual’s case will have a great impact on their lives.

As discussed above, there are many factors that determine an attorney’s hourly rate. Some of the most common factors that influence an attorney’s cost include:

  • Experience;
  • Reputation;
  • Jurisdiction;
  • Area of law; and
  • Type of case.

Experience is generally the factor with the greatest influence on an attorney’s hourly fee. Generally, an attorney that has been practicing longer will bill at a higher hourly rate. This is due to the fact that this attorney has a greater grasp of the law involved, has built more relationships, and is able to accomplish legal tasks more efficiently than a newly practicing attorney.

It is important to note that a more experienced attorney charging a higher rate will not always cost more in the long run. For example, an experienced attorney may be able to resolve a legal issue in 5 hours at a rate of $500 per hour, $2,500 total, while a less experienced attorney billing $200 per hour may take 15 hours for the same legal issue, or $3,000 total.

An attorney’s reputation is also an important factor in determining their hourly rate. It is common for attorneys from larger, more reputable law firms to bill at higher hourly rates than attorneys at smaller, lesser known firms. Additionally, if an attorney is known for representing high-end clientele, they may bill at a higher hourly rate than an attorney with less notoriety in the legal community. This does not mean one attorney is more capable than another, just that their practices are different.

Another factor in the hourly rate of an attorney is the area in which they practice. In smaller towns, attorneys are likely to bill at lower rates than in large cities or urban areas. Hourly fees may also vary depending on the state or city in which an attorney is practicing. For example, an attorney in New York City will typically bill at a higher hourly rate than an attorney in Alabama.

The area of law involved is an important determining factor in an attorney’s hourly rate. Many legal issues may require an attorney who specialized in that field of law. The attorney may have acquired additional schooling or licensure in that area, allowing them to charge a higher hourly rate. For example, an attorney specialising in intellectual property law is also required to pass the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) registration exam in order to be registered as a patent attorney. These attorneys will likely bill at a higher hourly rate due to their specialization. 

The type of case will be a factor in determining the hourly fee an attorney charges because different cases have different complexities and particulars that may make them more or less challenging than others. For example, a simple case that can be accomplished in a short period of time, such as filing an amicable divorce agreement for two parties with no children will be billed at a lower rate than a complex or difficult case such as a contentious divorce involving child custody issues.

Should I Keep Track of Legal Fees?

Yes, an individual should keep track of any legal fees incurred in their case. If an individual does hire an attorney on an hourly fee schedule, the attorney is obligated to bill regularly and update their client on the case.

It is important to obtain an hourly fee arrangement in writing to ensure bills are being properly generated as agreed. Many states require an attorney’s fee agreement be in writing and be signed by all parties involved.

An individual should communicate with their attorney if they have a cap or limit to the amount they are willing to spend on their legal issue. An attorney may offer a contingent based fee structure or a flat fee to assist with the legal issue.

It is important to keep track of legal costs in the event that a dispute arises over the fee agreement between the attorney and client. This evidence may be necessary should an individual need to file a malpractice case against an attorney.

Should I Hire an Attorney on an Hourly Fee Basis?

Whether to hire a lawyer on an hourly fee basis will depend on many factors including budget, type of case, and the type of attorney needed. There are advantages and disadvantages to hiring an attorney on an hourly fee basis. Depending on the case, having an experienced attorney representing you may be in your best interest.

In many cases, especially in criminal matters, can mean the difference between a harsher sentence and a lesser sentence. There are many options for getting the legal assistance you need. Some attorneys may take cases on a pro bono basis, meaning you will not be charged for their services.