Legal Fees

Working with a lawyers to resolve your legal can be a good idea, but comes with a price. Sometimes a high one. However, you should understand how you'll be billed and what to expect when you get the final bill shouldn't be a total mystery. Here is some information to help you become more informed before you meet with a lawyer.      

Attorney's FeeThe payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: hourly, per job or service -- for example, $350 to draft a will, contingency (the lawyer collects a percentage of any money she wins for her client and nothing if there is no recovery), or retainer (usually a down payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement). Attorney fees must usually be paid by the client who hires a lawyer, though occasionally a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the winner's court costs and attorney fees. For example, a contract might contain a provision that says the loser of any lawsuit between the parties to the contract will pay the winner's attorney fees. Many laws designed to protect consumers also provide for attorney fees -- for example, most state laws that require landlords to provide habitable housing also specify that a tenant who sues and wins using that law may collect attorney fees. And in family law cases -- divorce, custody and child support -- judges often have the power to order the more affluent spouse to pay the other spouse's attorney fees, even where there is no clear victor.

Fixed Fee vs. Contingent Fee vs. Hourly Billing

The advantage of a fixed fee is that the attorney fees are quoted before starting the legal project. That is, the client knows the attorney fees before deciding to start the work and can budget appropriately. Usually, fixed fees are provided to create patent, copyright, and trademark rights. Also, fixed fees are used for most form agreements and software licenses. To quote a fixed fee, the client and I first discuss the specific circumstances and review documentation to determine the scope.

The advantage of a contingent fee is that legal fees are only paid if a desired legal result is achieved. For example, when negotiating a license agreement, attorney fees would be paid if the deal closes (sort of like paying real estate agent’s percentage commission). Before accepting a case on a contingent fee, I meet with the client and review thoroughly.

Finally, the client always has the option of hourly billing, which may be used for open-ended legal work when the effort can not be predicted. Usually, litigation and enforcement of intellectual property is billable hourly. Currently, my hourly rate is $250.

How much are you willing to spend?

Legal services aren't cheap, and you should know how much are you willing to spend up front. Good representation may come at a steep, but not unreasonable, price.

When you're shopping for legal services, always ask potential attorneys to fully explain their fees and billing practices. Don't hesitate to ask detailed questions and don't be embarrassed. A lawyer's willingness to discuss fees is an important indicator of client service.

Free or Low-Cost Legal Services

Depending upon your financial situation, you may be entitled to free legal services. If you are indigent within the meaning of any applicable state or federal guideline, you may be eligible for representation by a public defender in a federal or state criminal case. Low-income people may also qualify for free representation in landlord-tenant and divorce cases. If you need financial help in obtaining legal representation and think that you might qualify for indigent status, contact pro bono and legal services organizations in your area.

In many cases you don't have to be indigent to get a lawyer for free or at little cost. Some organizations offer their members prepaid legal plans. Often plans include a low or no-cost consultation, or low-cost services in uncontested divorces or simple wills matters. Check your liability insurance policy. Your policy may include coverage for attorney fees or require your insurance company to provide an attorney to defend you in a lawsuit.

Many unions provide free legal services to their members in union-related matters. If your case or claim is work-related, talk to your union representative.

Certain rights or advocacy groups might want to get involved in your case. For example, if you are challenging an unlawful attack on your civil liberties or right to free speech, an organization such as the American Civil Liberties Union may be interested in helping you.

Charged with a Crime, but Can't Afford a Lawyer?

If you are indigent and if you are charged with a serious offense, you may be entitled to have an attorney appointed to represent you for free. The federal government and the states provide for the appointment of public defenders for indigent criminal defendants.

Public defenders are paid by the government and are required to represent clients as vigorously and competently as private attorneys. Public defenders often are specialists with many years of experience in the defense of criminal cases. Don't underestimate their expertise.