The basic rate for legal services depends on location. Based on your knowledge of the fees, a “fair” fee should be selected. Here are a few factors that play a role in the decision:
- What can you afford?
- Is this a routine case or do I need someone with special experience?
- What is the going rate for the attorneys in my area?
- What can I take care of without the attorney?
The following are basic fee agreements in use by attorneys:
Flat fee: There is a specific total that will be charged for work on your case.
- Idea: Make sure to ask if copies, transcribing and other expenses are included in this rate.
- This is normally offered only if the case is simple or routine.
- Note: Litigation is not usually a flat fee, but an attorney can give you a fair estimate beforehand.
Hourly rate: A rate will be charged for each hour or part of the hour that the attorney works on your case. For example, if the attorney’s fee is $50 per hour and puts in five hours of work, then the cost will be $250. Some rates may vary depending on whether they are hours spent in court or doing investigation and preparation.
- Idea: If you decide on an hourly rate, find out how much expertise the attorney has in your particular problem area. Someone who is less experienced will need more hours to complete the work, even though the hourly rate is lower.
- The size of the firm also affects the price. Smaller firms and urban lawyers usually charge a higher hourly rate than lawyers in rural areas and large law firms charge the most.
- Idea: Find out what is included in the hourly rate. Will you be charged for other staff members time put into the case and if so, how? Are there any other expenses that I will be billed for besides the hourly rate?
Contingency fee: The final amount owed is based on the amount awarded in the case. In this scenario, if you lose the case, the lawyer does not receive anything besides expenses. This is normally one-third of the total.
- Idea: Find out if the fee will be calculated before or after expenses are taken into account. This can make a significant difference in the amount of the fee.