Attorneys, also called lawyers, offer important and highly specialized services. The fees that lawyers charge reflect this.
Many individuals, however, do not realize that lawyers are often flexible in the amount they bill, including the lawyer’s hourly billing. Although most lawyers will not invite a client to negotiate their fee, there are areas in which the lawyer may agree to change their billing structure.
Charging an hourly fee is the most common way lawyers bill their clients. It is important to note, however, that not all of the tasks required for a case are equal.
Because of this, an attorney may be willing to bill at a different rate for different services. For example, an attorney may bill one rate for time in court and a lower rate for time spent researching.
In addition, many lawyers are willing to cap their fees. When an attorney uses a fee cap, they will charge an hourly rate up to the agreed-upon limit.
That way, a client knows up front the maximum amount they will be responsible for paying. One other negotiation tool a client may use is to request that their lawyer bill them at 6 minute intervals instead of 15 minute intervals.
This can save a client a good bit of money. For example, if a lawyer charges $100 per hour, a 5 minute phone call will cost $10 if billed at a 6 minute interval.
However, if the lawyer bills at 15 minute intervals, that same phone call will cost the client $25. Over the duration of the case, this may add up to a significant amount of money.
It is important for a client to fully understand their lawyer’s billing structure prior to agreeing to hire them. Although discussing fees may seem unpleasant or awkward, doing this before hiring a lawyer can save a client time and anxiety in the long run.
What Determines How Much a Lawyer Costs?
Of course the services of a lawyer are not free. However, there is a common misconception that the majority of individuals cannot afford a lawyer.
Legal professionals bill based on numerous factors, including:
- Area of law; and
- Type of case.
Location is one major factor that may cause the cost of legal representation to vary. A client should expect to pay more for the services of an experienced attorney in a large city than a newly licensed attorney in a small town.
In addition to the factors noted above, there are many others that may cause the cost of a lawyer to vary, including:
- Type of representation: The more complex the case, the more likely that it will cost more for a lawyer’s services. This is also true for cases that appear to be routine or simple matters that have been made complicated by aggravating factors or circumstances;
- Services performed: If a lawyer is performing multiple services, the overall cost of representation will most likely rise; and
- Fee arrangement: The overall cost of representation will vary depending on whether the lawyer:
- is billing on a contingency fee plus an hourly basis;
- requires a flat fee;
- is retained and advises on a need by need basis; or
- has been hired as in-house counsel.
Common legal areas and the fees that are normally charged include:
- Injury or accident cases: Typically billed by a contingency fee;
- Civil and family law cases: Typically billed on an hourly basis, which can vary greatly depending on the case and the lawyer. It is more common for divorces to be handled on a flat fee basis. Clients should expect to pay a retainer fee;
- Criminal cases: Typically paid up front by a flat fee; and
- Routine cases: Typically paid with a flat fee. Examples of routine cases include:
- writing a will;
- a real estate closing;
- an uncontested divorce; or
- getting a power of attorney.
Should Legal Fees Be Discussed Before Hiring a Lawyer?
Choosing the right attorney may be confusing and overwhelming to an individual who does not have any experience in the legal field. There are several types of legal fees a lawyer may use to bill clients, including flat fees or hourly rates.
When an attorney charges an hourly fee, they charge based on the amount of hours of work they put into the case. As noted above, this is the most commonly used fee schedule.
Hourly fees may be used in both criminal cases and civil cases. The amount of hours required to resolve a case will vary greatly depending on the type of case.
In addition, a lawyer’s hourly rate may vary greatly. What amount a lawyer charges as a fee within that range will depend on numerous factors, such as:
- The type of case;
- The amount of time the case will likely take;
- Travel costs;
- Costs involved in the case; or
- The area in which they work.
An average attorney’s hourly rate is between $100 and $300 but may increase to $400 depending on the lawyer’s experience level and the type of legal issues. Legal 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.
Some attorneys require retainer fees, or advanced payments, if they charge an hourly rate. The client’s money will be deposited into the lawyer’s trust account.
From there, the lawyer will deduct money as services are completed. Generally, any money that remains will be refunded to the client.
A flat fee is an overall charge that the client pays up front for their entire legal representation. This type of fee is often used when the services are more predictable, for example, in a criminal case.
If a client will be paying a flat fee, they should discuss with their attorney exactly what expenses and services are included in the flat fee. A statutory fee is a fee that is set by a statute or a law.
There are certain categories of legal work that require court approval for the fee.
What Should I Do If I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?
If a criminal defendant cannot afford a lawyer, they have a 6th Amendment right to an attorney. This right to an attorney means that if the individual cannot afford to hire a private attorney, the court will appoint one to represent them.
In personal injury cases, there are many lawyers who charge contingency fees. In these cases, the client does not have to pay up front and only pays if their case is won.
One excellent resource for an individual who believes they cannot afford a lawyer is LegalMatch. LegalMatch allows a potential client to submit their claim online for free in a matter of minutes.
The claim will then be reviewed by available attorneys who typically respond within 24 hours. These responses will contain information regarding legal fees, which will allow the individual to choose a lawyer within their budget.
It is important to remember, as noted above, attorneys may be willing to negotiate their fees. In addition, many LegalMatch attorneys offer free initial consultations.
Should I Hire a Lawyer?
If you or a loved one has any issues, questions, or concerns related to a legal matter it may be helpful to consult with a lawyer in your area. You have nothing to lose by trying the simple and free LegalMatch process to find attorneys who are waiting to assist you.