When you need a lawyer and you need one quickly, you may be tempted to choose an attorney whose services seem less expensive. Many people aren’t sure exactly how attorneys’ fees are calculated, so they often look at one aspect without taking the entire picture into account. But, knowing the basics of how attorneys charge for their work will help you avoid misunderstandings, and will also allow you to find a good attorney who will fight for your best interests. You want a lawyer who knows the subject matter of your legal problem inside and out, charges fairly, treats you with respect, and with whom you can communicate.

Typical Attorney Fee Structures

The first thing to know is that there are no set “standard fees” in law practice. Rather, an attorney will base his/her fees on a few factors, such as the attorney’s experience, overhead, reputation, type of legal problem, and what other lawyers in their locality typically charge for similar work.

When you’re shopping for legal services, always ask potential attorneys to fully explain their fees and billing practices. Don’t be embarrassed to ask detailed questions.  Steer clear of a lawyer who is unwilling to discuss fees in a clear and easily understandable manner. Typical attorney fee arrangements include:

  • Hourly rates – The attorney gets paid an agreed-upon hourly rate for the hours worked on a client’s case or matter until it’s resolved.
  • Flat fees – When a legal matter is simple and well-defined, lawyers may charge a flat fee. Examples of flat fee matters include wills, uncontested divorces and District Justice hearings.
  • Retainers – This is usually an advance payment on the hourly rate for a specific case. The lawyer puts the retainer in a special trust account and deducts from that account the cost of services as they accrue.
  • Contingent fees – The attorney takes no fee from the client up-front, but gets a percentage of the settlement or money upon judgment. Contingent fee arrangements are typical for accident lawsuits,medical malpractice, personal injury cases and debt collection cases.

Get your attorney’s fee agreement in writing. In some states, this is a requirement, but a good lawyer will provide his/her fees in writing whether they’re required to do so or not.  The written fee agreement should include a provision for itemized billing, when applicable.

The cheapest lawyer is not necessarily the best, especially if your problem is complicated or specialized. An attorney who charges $150 an hour may end up costing more than one who charges $425 if the more expensive lawyer has much greater expertise and experience and provides better and faster service. On the other hand, the most expensive lawyer might not be necessary, either. For example, if your problem is not that complex, you might not need a high-priced, large law firm to handle it.

The bottom line is that you want a lawyer who knows the subject matter of your legal problem inside and out, charges fairly, treats you with respect, and with whom you can communicate.  If you have questions about an attorney’s fee, please contact Keenan, Ciccitto and Associates, LLP and we will be glad to help you.