Understanding Lawyer Fees An Overview

The services of an effective lawyer are not a commodity. They can’t be priced like one. Their fees can vary dramatically given the details of your case. If your case requires litigation, a lawyer’s fee will rise quickly (litigation is usually expensive). If a settlement is likely, the fee will reflect that. Below, we’ll give you an overview of lawyers’ fees so you’ll know what to expect when you need to retain their services.

First Step: Meeting With Your Lawyer

Most lawyers will want to schedule a consultation before quoting a fee for their services. During the consultation, they’ll ask questions to understand the kind of work involved in your case. This is the only way a lawyer can quote a reasonable fee. Some lawyers (especially when working with new clients) require a retainer. The retainer isn’t your full legal bill. It usually reflects the amount of work involved in your case when your lawyer is working either on a fixed fee or at an hourly rate.

Contingent Fees

When a lawyer takes your case and agrees to represent you on a contingent fee basis, it’s usually for a civil suit. In this type of arrangement, the lawyer typically won’t charge you for his time. Instead, he receives compensation if the ruling of the case is in your favor. It’s important to note that just because your lawyer is working on a contingent fee, that doesn’t exclude the costs of litigation. You’ll still be required to pay those expenses.

Negotiating The Fee

Some lawyers are open to negotiating their fee. While the best lawyers are typically booked with clients (and thus, unlikely to lower their fees), many lawyers are hungry for your business. If you can’t afford the fee they quote, offer a lower fee. Some lawyers may want the experience your case can provide. Or, they may be a new lawyer and willing to reduce their fee to build their business.

If your lawyer is working on an hourly basis, ask him to quote a maximum fee. Keep in mind that every case is unique and the process of a lawsuit often makes it difficult to quote a maximum fee. That said, if a lawyer quotes a small retainer (i.e. $500) and can’t provide a maximum fee, you may be in for an unpleasant legal bill. Most lawyers who quote a $500 retainer will consider your case simple and unlikely to exceed that amount. Lawyers who quote a small retainer yet won’t commit to a maximum may be a sign of trouble.

Other Options

If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford the services of local attorneys, you can explore other options. First, ask lawyers if they accept “pro bono” cases. Often, a lawyer will be interested or in the details surrounding a case and agree to work on a “no fee” basis. Second, check with a “legal services” company. They may be able to offer their services for a fraction of the fee of an attorney.

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