Even after winning a court case, people sometimes may come away feeling uneasy with the amount of money they spent on attorney's fees. Most people understand that an experienced lawyer's assistance can be invaluable to a case. Legal counsel isn't cheap, but knowing the difference between a fair price and an excessive price is difficult because circumstances vary from case to case.
The bottom line: The cost of hiring a lawyer depends on your case and what arrangements you make. This article can help you think more about your options.
Injury or Accident Cases
Most personal injury lawyers handle cases on a "contingency" fee basis, meaning the lawyer agrees to take a certain percentage of the final settlement or judgment, usually 33% of the amount. After paying the contingency fee, you will keep the remainder. If you do not win the case, there are no lawyer's fees. A contingency can also be on a sliding scale, meaning the lawyer gets a higher percentage if the settlement or judgment is large and a lower percentage if the award is smaller.
Many employment law attorneys who represent plaintiffs in discrimination, sexual harassment, and wage and hour cases also take cases on a contingency basis.
Non-Injury Civil Cases
Family law, estate planning, real estate, and almost all other non-injury civil cases will involve your attorney billing you on an hourly basis, which can vary greatly from case to case and lawyer to lawyer. Factors such as the lawyer's experience and type of case will affect hourly pricing. If your case needs to go to trial, meaning your lawyer will need to consult with expert witnesses and conduct more investigation work, you should expect a higher bill.
While a lawyer experienced with cases like yours might be desirable, you should expect to pay more for any specialization. Also, expect to pay an initial retainer when the lawyer agrees to take the case to secure the lawyer's services.
A retainer is a dollar amount that represents a certain number of the lawyer's work hours at a set price, sometimes representing an estimate of the total cost of the lawyer's services on the case. Clients pay retainers in advance. By accepting the retainer, the lawyer agrees to work on your case and not to take any cases that might present a conflict of interest with representing you.
A flat fee paid upfront is standard pricing practice for some criminal cases, like traffic violations, misdemeanors, and DUIs.
If you face serious charges and are likely to go to trial, your lawyer may either negotiate a high up-front or hourly fee. Felony trial cases typically involve numerous complicated legal procedures that take time and money, like multiple hearings, jury selection, trial, motions, expert witnesses, and background investigations.
What Should You Do?
One of the most important things to keep in mind when seeking the right legal counsel for your case is not to let price dictate your choice. The best way to choose a lawyer is to meet them, discuss your case, ask questions, and have your concerns addressed directly.
Most lawyers will be comfortable talking with you about how much they charge and what you could reasonably expect to pay. They may also be willing to work out payment plans or other arrangements. They may also be able to refer you to another lawyer who charges less but still provides high-quality representation.