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Attorneys and Fees

When someone has a legal problem, one of the first people they might speak to is an attorney. An experienced attorney can provide legal advice and represent someone in a dispute.

Before the average client gets in touch with an attorney, they may have questions about how much hiring legal help will cost. They may wonder about how and when to pay the attorney and whether they even need a lawyer in the first place.

In FindLaw's Attorneys and Fees section, you can find information about the types of fees and costs you can expect to face when hiring an attorney. This section also provides other articles related to attorney's fees.

Factors That Affect Attorney Fees

Most states require that attorneys charge reasonable attorneys' fees for their services. This means attorneys choose how much to charge their clients.

You will only know how much an attorney charges if you ask. However, certain factors may affect the particular attorney's legal fees. These factors include the following:

  • The complexity of the case
  • The area of law the attorney specializes in
  • The attorney's level of experience
  • The amount of time the case will take to resolve
  • Whether the attorney has staff to help them prepare the case (e.g., paralegals, law clerks, etc.)

Sometimes, you and the attorney can negotiate the attorney's fees. A client can also help reduce legal costs. For instance, a client can reduce the amount of time the attorney spends on the case by taking the following actions:

  • Being prepared for meetings or phone calls with the attorney
  • Organizing the information and documents you provide to the attorney
  • Ensuring efficient communication with an attorney

A client should examine the attorney's legal bills to ensure the attorney properly charges them for work performed and that the rate matches their agreement.

Legal Fee Arrangements

Most lawyers will have their clients sign a fee agreement at the start of the attorney-client relationship. The agreement specifies how they will calculate their fees and how the client will pay.

In general, there are three types of attorney fee arrangements: by the hour, contingency, or fixed fee. The area of law and the task the client hires the attorney to perform will determine which type of fee agreement the attorney will offer.

A by-the-hour fee is just as it sounds, with the attorney charging the client for each hour of work they perform on the case. In this fee agreement, the hourly rate may vary depending on who performed the task. If support staff performs the work, they may charge a lower hourly fee than the attorney.

contingency fee is a fee the attorney earns if their client prevails or enters into a settlement agreement in the case. A losing party who entered into a contingency fee agreement with their attorney will not have to pay the attorney's legal fees. Personal injury attorneys often work on a contingency basis. 

Many plaintiffs' attorneys charge contingency fees when they win or settle a civil case. Most states prohibit contingency fee agreements for criminal cases or divorces.

A lawyer may also use a fixed fee agreement. They'll charge a flat fee for the legal work they perform. This type of agreement may keep costs low, as it doesn't consider the actual time the attorney spends on the task. Attorneys often have fixed fee agreements for simple and standard legal issues, such as drafting a will or a trust.

The American Rule: Pay Your Own Fees

In our legal system, the party who hires an attorney is responsible for paying their attorney fees. This is known as the American rule. This differs from the English rule, in which the losing side must pay the winning side's fees.

The American rule is not absolute. Parties may opt out of the American rule if they wish, allowing the prevailing party to request the losing party to pay their attorney fees. This recovery of attorney fees is called fee-shifting.

Suppose a party files a breach of contract case, and the contract had an attorney fees provision. Per the provision, the parties agreed that the losing party would pay the winning party's attorney fees if they ever had to litigate the contract. In that case, the court may disregard the American rule and issue an award of attorney fees under the fee-shifting provision.

If someone files a frivolous lawsuit in bad faith, the opposing party may request the court award their attorney fees as part of the judgment.

Additional Costs and Expenses

Like auto mechanics who charge for parts and labor, attorneys may charge clients for their work on a case and any expenses or costs incurred. Additional costs include:

  • Filing fees for filing documents with the court
  • Travel expenses
  • Mailing postage
  • Photocopying
  • Costs of serving court papers on opposing parties

Lawyers working on a contingency or providing free legal services may request reimbursement for additional costs and expenses because these charges would otherwise come out of the attorney's pocket.

Hiring an Attorney

If you have a potential lawsuit, civil litigation, or other legal questions, you may want to consult with a local litigation attorney. An experienced attorney can help you determine your options and whether you need an attorney.


Learn About Attorneys and Fees

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

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