In an ideal world, no one would need a lawyer. But life is not that simple, and in most legal cases it is highly beneficial to hire one. In a small claims court for things such as driving tickets, a lawyer is not necessary. But for reasons such as a divorce, car accidents, property rights, business protection, and more complicated events, a lawyer is needed. Cost is usually the biggest concern for clients. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to how much a lawyer will cost because each case is unique. On the bright side of that, there are a lot of options available for clients to shop around and find the best fit for them.
Several factors contribute to how lawyers bill their clients; the case complexity, experience, and location.
The nature of the case will determine the range of cost. Both the type of case, and the estimated time it will take to settle are contributing factors. There are s many areas of law practice including admiralty, bankruptcy, business, civil rights, criminal, entertainment, family, government, environmental, immigration, intellectual property, international, labor, military, personal injury, real estate, and tax. However, many lawyers work in more than one specialty, such as combining business and labor practices. Most of us are familiar with famous criminal cases such as the trials of O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. These are extreme examples of how complicated, and long a case can become. Hopefully, this is not your situation. Some important factors that will either slow or speed up the process are how many parties are involved, the severity of damage, sufficiency of evidence, and how cooperative the parties are. Some cases may not even make it to court, and choose to settle instead. Therefore, there is no clear answer to how much a certain type of case will cost without first consulting your lawyer.
The experience of a lawyer will likely determine their rates. An attorney fresh out of law school will likely be cheaper than someone with fifteen years experience at a leading firm. Who you should choose depends on the complexity of your case. To get an idea of the difference in service charges, consider how much money each earns per year. According to Glassdoor, a junior attorney in the U.S. makes an average of $117k per year, and a senior associate attorney makes an average of $239k.
The most expensive states for hiring a lawyer are California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts. More populated metropolitan areas tend to generally have more expensive lawyers because of the higher demand.
So when do you have to state paying your lawyer? Like other all aspects of your case, it depends.
Many lawyers offer a free consultation, and others charge for their professional legal advice. If they do charge, the price and when it is due is determined by them or their firm.
The predicted expenses and fees incurred by your case are covered by a retainer fee, which is paid upfront to your lawyer if they require one.
If your case results in a monetary resolution, the lawyer will receive a percentage of that money, called a contingency fee. This fee is negotiable, and can be require maximums or minimums. For example, you may agree to pay a contingency of 20% of recovery up to $50,000.
Being charged hourly can either be beneficial, or costly. You will probably want to avoid being charged hourly if your case is more complex, or predicted to take an extended amount of time. Paying by the hour can benefit you if your case resolves faster than expected.
Lawyers that offer a flat rate will have a standard charge for the case or service regardless of how long it takes. This is more common for issues that are quickly resolved, such as writing a will, or filing for bankruptcy. Just like hourly rates, this can be both beneficial or costly. You may overpay for a service that is easily resolved in a short amount of hours, or you may pay less than a more timely case than you would at an hourly charge.
Extra fees often incur during a case, such as court fees, the cost of making copies, and paying for expert witnesses.
Many lawyers are willing to work out a payment plan to cover the expenses of their services aside from the retainer fee. Be sure to discuss this with your lawyer during your consult if you are seeking this option.