IMPORTANT: The fee agreement should clearly define exactly what the attorney will do in regard to your legal matter. It should also be stated that when the objectives are met, the attorney-client relationship is concluded.
There are four types of payment arrangements. They are determined by the type of case.
- Hourly rate
- Flat fee
- Contingent fees
Charging by the hour is the most common. Fees are dependent on the location, size of law firm and experience of attorney. According to the National Law Journal, “[n]early 20 percent of the firms included in [its] annual survey of large law firm billing rates this year (2013) had at least one partner charging more than $1,000 an hour.” By comparison, a sole practitioner in a small town may only charge $125 per hour.
Flat fees are charged when a case is well defined such as writing a simple will, filing bankruptcy or an uncontested divorce with no children. The lawyer may have handled several similar cases so they already have the necessary resources at hand and know approximately how long it will take to achieve the result .
Retainer is an advance payment on an hourly rate case. The normal scenario for a retainer is, each month payment for services is deducted from it. Once it is depleted the client has to replenish it. Some attorneys use the retainer as a “safety net”. They will continue to send monthly bills which are to be paid. They keep the retainer until the end of the case to cover any balance due at that time. Once the case is closed, they return any leftover monies due you. This is why it is important to read the fee agreement thoroughly. Ask questions if something is unclear.
In a contingency fee agreement, the attorney receives no money in advance and gets paid a percentage from the monies awarded. The normal percentage is 30% if the case does not go to trial and 40% if it does. Many times the attorney will pay costs associated with medical documents, expert witness fees, office expenses, etc. But again, make sure to read the agreement thoroughly so you are familiar with what costs you will be required to cover. Personal injury, auto accident, and workers’ compensation cases fall under this heading.