Hiring a lawyer can be a difficult experience for those who haven't done it before and are unfamiliar with the legal industry. It can be hard to figure out what qualities and characteristics make a person a "good" lawyer, and how to determine whether the lawyers you're thinking about hiring possess the "good" lawyer qualities. Figuring out how much a lawyer "should" cost and what you're actually paying for can be also be a daunting task, especially since lawyers tend to be fairly expensive. FindLaw's Legal Fees section provides information about attorney fee agreements, types of legal costs and legal fees, and fee disputes. In this section, you can also find helpful advice on how to reduce your legal costs and expenses.
Legal Fees vs. Legal Costs
While it might sound picky, there is actually a difference between legal fees and legal costs. It's important to realize this because when you hire an attorney, you will be billed for both. A legal fee is basically the fee for the work performed personally by the attorney. It's totally up to the lawyer to decide how to format his or her bill. Some attorneys will itemize each cost, others may simply lump all the costs together but list it separately from his or her legal fee. Finally, some attorneys may include of these costs in their own legal fee.
Generally speaking, legal costs refer to expenses related to the case that aren't the actual work that the lawyer is performing. For example, filing fees, research related costs, travel expenses, and photocopying costs are all legal costs. Things like depositions, consultants, expert witness, and investigators are also considered legal costs. Finally, the work done by paralegals or other support staff is usually listed as a legal cost as well.
Types of Legal Fees
It's hard to say exactly how much a case will cost in legal fees. The cost of hiring an attorney will depend on your particular case and the fee agreement you make with the attorney. However, there is some general information available about how lawyers' fees can work. For example, attorneys who work on criminal cases usually charge a flat fee because the nature of criminal cases makes it difficult to charge an hourly rate or a contingency fee.
Usually a personal injury attorney is going to have a contingency fee, which means that the lawyer is paid a portion of the settlement or judgment. The percentage that the lawyer will be paid is determined at the beginning of the attorney-client relationship. While the percentage a lawyer charges may vary, it's usually about one-third of the settlement or judgment. If the case doesn't result in a win for the client, then the lawyer doesn't get paid. Some contingency fees can also be on a sliding scale, which means that the lawyer's percentage will be higher if the settlement or judgment is large, and lower if the award is small.
For civil cases that don't involve personal injury, usually attorneys charge an hourly rate. Some examples of the practice areas that generally require an hourly rate are family law, estate planning, and real estate. Hourly fees will vary greatly from lawyer to lawyer and depending on the case. Many times an attorney who is charging hourly will also require an initial retainer to secure the lawyer's services. The lawyer will use the retainer as a down payment against which future costs are billed.