When retaining a lawyer, it is important that you establish how the lawyer will set his or her fee. This should be agreed upon before you get too far into the details of your legal matter. In determining a fee, a lawyer may take into account the complexity or difficulties involved in the work, the amount of time required, scheduling constraints imposed by the client or other circumstances, whether or not the fee is contingent, and the nature of the issues involved and the results obtained. Lawyers, like others, incur expenses to maintain their offices, provide support services, purchase materials and equipment, pay employees, and support themselves and their dependents. Many lawyers maintain law libraries and continually expand them to keep up with changes in the law. Failing to come to an agreement on the subject of legal fees and expenses early in the lawyer-client relationship can result in misunderstandings at a later stage of the relationship.
Lawyers generally charge in one of several different ways:
– On a flat fee basis, for handling a particular type of matter. The lawyer may quote you a set amount or standard fee for a routine legal matter. You also usually are expected to pay court costs and to reimburse the lawyer for out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel or copying costs. For example, many wills and simple divorces are handled on a flat fee basis.
– On the basis of a percentage of the amount recovered, which is called a contingent fee arrangement. This means that if your lawsuit is successful, the lawyer receives an agreed upon percentage of the amount recovered, plus out-of-pocket expenses and court costs. Cases involving personal injury are often handled on a contingent fee basis.
– On an hourly basis for time spent and expenses incurred on your behalf. Hourly rates of lawyers generally depend upon the lawyer’s experience and the demand for his or her services. There is no set hourly rate, and the rates vary. Many business matters are charged according to hourly rates.
– On a retainer basis, where an individual or business employs a lawyer by giving him or her a down payment toward the fee for specified legal services. In return for the retainer the attorney will work for you on any matter for which you may need his or her services. Additional costs may be added to the final bill for services involving extra time and effort from the lawyer. Always request that your lawyer give a receipt to you for the advance on the fee.