Attorney Fees Explained

| August 20, 2012

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One of the considerations to keep in mind when selecting an attorney is how the lawyer will be paid. Read through this information about the types of fees that attorneys may charge and don’t forget to use DexKnows’ attorney listings for your search.

Hourly fees

Lawyers with a set hourly rate charge you for each hour (or part of an hour) that the lawyer works on the case. This method, as the American Bar Association says on its blog, is the most common billing method used by lawyers.

There are trade-offs. The bar association states that more experienced attorneys charge more but may take less time to do the same work. Lawyers may also have different hourly fees for different services. For example, they could have one fee for doing legal research and another for appearing in court, the website says. Ask the attorney for an estimate of what you may end up paying.

Flat fee

A flat fee, or fixed fee, is a set fee that an attorney charges. This is more commonly charged when lawyers offer a routine service like preparing a will or representing you in a simple bankruptcy case or uncontested divorce, according to the Denver Bar Association.

Contingency fees

A contingency fee, as described by the Florida Bar Association, is called for when you and a lawyer agree that the lawyer will only be paid if you win your case. This type of fee, used in cases such as personal injury, collections and auto damages, may be fixed at a specific percentage of the money received if the case is won. FindLaw says that while fee percentages vary, it’s common to charge one-third of the money recovered.

Losing the case means your attorney won’t be paid for any work done, but the American Bar Association states that you will likely still have to pay some fees, including court filing fees and any fees related to deposing witnesses.

Retainer fee

A retainer fee, FindLaw states, is like a down payment. The lawyer charges a set fee, perhaps the average fee charged in your kind of case, and deducts the cost of services from that fee. When the retainer falls below a certain level, the lawyer may ask for more money. Also, a retainer fee may be non-refundable, cautions FindLaw.

A retainer is also used to have a lawyer “on call” to handle your legal problems over a period of time. FindLaw suggests asking for clarification about what your retainer fee would cover.

In general, make sure you understand how your lawyer will be paid. Ask whether there’s a charge for an initial consultation and how much the attorney has charged for similar cases. The American Bar Association suggests asking not only what charges are included in the fee but what other charges may arise. The Florida Bar Association offers examples, including filing fees, sheriff fees and payments made to court reporters. Other questions include whether you can pay your bill in installments and when it will be due.

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Category: Attorneys, Professional, Services

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Central Ohio journalist with 15 years experience at daily newspapers. Freelance writer and amateur photographer. Storytellers are my heroes, poets my idols and photographers my looking glass.