If you need to hire an attorney, one of the first things that will probably cross your mind is the type of costs you are looking at. While lawyers may be able to quote you a fee for certain types of cases such as traffic tickets, wills, and other straightforward documents, they may not be able to give you pricing for a case that will require an unknown amount of time, such as a personal injury case. But what types of fees will you be facing if you hire a lawyer? Will there be contingency fees, consultation fees, or hourly rates? Here is a primer that will help you to understand a few of them and what they cover.
One of the first fees that you may be charged by an attorney is a consultation fee. This is usually accessed for your initial meeting with the attorney. The amount of the consultation fee is usually based on the hourly rate that is charged by the attorney. A consultation fee may not be charged in all types of cases and what will be due should be clearly quoted and understood when you call to schedule your appointment. If the attorney's office does not tell you what the fee will be, feel free to ask them this question.
Many times you may see ads for attorneys who state that they will take your case for no money down, no money upfront, or that the attorney will not be paid if you do not win. In these cases, the attorney is willing to work for a contingency fee, or a percentage of your successfully settled lawsuit. These fees are often a third or more of any settlement amount, but in some states the percentage that the attorney can charge is set or determined by the court. A contingency fee is designed to make it easier for people who may not have money to pursue legal resources.
The attorney may also be willing to accept one percentage if the case is settled prior to trial, but they may expect a higher percentage if the case has to go to trial. This additional percentage is expected to cover the additional hours that the attorney will have to put into your case to prepare it to get ready to go to court.
This type of fee structure is most commonly seen in the following types of cases:
- Personal injury cases
- Workers' compensation cases
- Wrongful death suits
- Wrongful termination claims and other types of cases that would result in a settlement agreement
Whatever the fee structure is, the fee being charged should always be outlined in writing in a contingent fee agreement. In addition to the percentage that the attorney is entitled to, the agreement should also outline any other fees or expenses that the attorney will be entitled to reimbursement for. Some of these may include:
- Filing fees
- Copy costs
- Expert witness fees
- Cost of depositions and more
Sometimes an attorney will ask for part of their fee or payment in advance before they begin to work on your case. This is normally referred to as a retainer fee and may be seen as a down payment for the legal services you will be receiving. This money should be placed in an account that is separate than the attorney's personal accounts and is often used for the attorney to draw from to pay various fees as the work on your case proceeds.
Paying a retainer fee is different than having an attorney on retainer. When you have an attorney on retainer, you pay an ongoing installment fee in order to have an attorney "on call" anytime you need legal services.
Do not be afraid to discuss fees with your attorney prior to any services being rendered. Ask what these fees will cover, and what, if any, additional fees you may encounter as your legal services are rendered. Make sure that the fees that are discussed are always in writing and the agreement is signed by both of you. This will help to eliminate unnecessary confusion at the end.