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Attorney Fees and Agreements

Once you've decided to hire an attorney, it's important that you review any agreements before signing on. Usually, an attorney will have a representation or fee agreement that will outline the terms of the attorney-client relationship and the fees and costs associated with the representation. Representation agreements are important because they will often let the client know how and when the lawyer will give the client status updates, and who will be performing the work. A clear fee structure is important because it outlines the various legal fees and costs associated with the work the attorney and his or her staff will perform, and allows the client to figure out whether or not he or she can afford the attorney. A clear fee structure can also be helpful in avoiding a fee dispute in the future.

FindLaw's Attorney Fees and Agreements section provides information about representation agreements and the types of legal fees and costs you can expect when hiring an attorney. You can also find information about legal malpractice lawsuits, and a section on how to reduce your legal costs and expenses.

What to Expect from Your Lawyer

After hiring an attorney, you might wonder what to expect from your attorney. While an attorney can't guarantee a specific outcome, there are some things that he or she can guarantee. An attorney should communicate with you effectively, comply with ethical rules, represent you in a competent manner, and bill you in the manner that is outlined in his or her fee agreement.

Communication between an attorney and a client is very important. Good communication means that the client can feel comfortable that the attorney is working on the client's case. Of course, an attorney can't be in constant communication with the client. After all, he or she usually is handling multiple cases. But, it's important for an attorney to return a call or email within a business day, or at least explain why he or she couldn't respond sooner. In addition, the attorney must keep the client updated with any new developments on the client's case.

Lawyers are bound by the ethical rules of the state in which they are practicing. However, there are some themes common to the ethical rules of each state. The ethical rules of pretty much every state require that an attorney maintain attorney-client privilege, represent the client's interests loyally, and not engage in criminal activities. In addition, states generally require that attorneys keep a separate bank account for their clients' money. Finally, it's expected that the lawyer handle each legal matter "competently," which relates to the core knowledge and expertise of the lawyer.

Types of Fee Arrangements

How much a legal matter will cost you will depend on various factors including the complexity of the case, the costs involved, the amount of time spent on your legal matter, and the lawyer's experience. Usually, an attorney will also factor in overhead expenses - such as rent, utilities, office equipment, etc. - when deciding on his or her fee. There are a few common types of fee arrangements you can expect when you hire an attorney.

Probably the most common type of fee arrangement is when the attorney charges an hourly rate. This type of fee allows the attorney to charge for the hours that he or she works on your legal matter. The hourly rate can vary depending on the type of work being performed - a court appearance versus legal research. Also, large firms will usually have different fee scales depending on the seniority of the attorneys, with senior members charging more that young associates.

A common type of fee arrangement for personal injury lawyers is a contingency fee. A contingency fee is based on the amount awarded in the case, whether it's a judgment or a settlement. If the client loses the case, the lawyer doesn't get the fee, but the client is still responsible for expenses associated with the case. A contingency fee can also be charged in property damage cases, or other cases that will potentially result in a large settlement or judgment, but can't be used in criminal and child custody manners.