Hiring a lawyer can be extremely useful when you need legal advice or are experiencing legal trouble, but this kind of help is rarely free. Understanding payment options for legal work is important if you want to get the best deal, one that makes sense for your budget and the legal work that you need to have done.
Understanding Common Fee Arrangements
A good attorney will not be afraid to discuss fees, so ask detailed questions about the attorney's billing practices. You will probably find that the lawyer uses one of the following payment arrangements:
Some cases lend themselves to contingency payments, where the attorney takes no payment up front, instead collecting a percentage of the settlement if and when the case is won. This usually comes out to around a third of the settlement, although some attorneys will negotiate lower than this amount. Often, the court will set a limit to the maximum amount that an attorney can charge in these types of cases.
Personal injury cases, like medical malpractice or auto accident cases, are often pursued on a contingency basis. Certain kinds of cases are prohibited from contingency arrangements, including child custody, divorce and criminal cases.
This is a common payment arrangement, where the lawyer charges an hourly rate for his or her services. Certain cases can be handled quickly, while others take a lot of time and effort to work through. It is best if you get a general idea of how time consuming your case is going to be from several different attorneys. Each may have different rates as well.
Keep in mind that cheaper is not always the best deal, as an experienced lawyer can often work through complex issues more quickly.
The retainer fee is usually applied to the hourly rate of the attorney. When the fee is paid, it is placed in an account for the lawyer to pull from as he or she works through the case. Retainer fees are usually non-refundable, so you should be certain you want to work with this particular attorney before committing.
Flat fees are usually used when the legal matter is uncomplicated or routine. Lawyers will often charge flat fees for uncontested divorces, simple wills and basic bankruptcy filings. Clarify what the fee covers before you agree to it, because sometimes there will be extra costs to complete all of the tasks for your particular case.