How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

At some point in life, you might need to retain an attorney to represent your interests and to make sure that no one violates your rights. Choosing the right lawyer is sometimes a stressful process, especially if someone you trust can’t refer you to a good lawyer. The important aspect of finding the correct lawyer for many individuals is figuring out how much retaining a lawyer will cost, though that should not be the deciding factor.

Choose the Right Lawyer for Your Type of Claim

You wouldn’t want to hire a criminal attorney for a family law or personal injury case. When you are researching lawyers, make sure you choose one with plenty of experience in the area you need. In some cases, you should choose a board-certified attorney, though board-certified attorneys may charge more.
For example, if you have a complicated family law case because one or both spouses own businesses, or you have several rental properties, you might consider going with a board-certified family law attorney, or at least an attorney with both family and business law experience.

Fee Schedules for Attorneys

Hourly and Retainer

In most cases, attorneys charge by the hour. You pay an up-front retainer, and if you deplete your retainer, your attorney might require you to pay another retainer, or continue to charge hourly without the additional retainer. Your attorney will deduct the hours that he or she works on your case from your retainer amount.
The type of case you have will determine the amount of your initial retainer. For example, a family law attorney might ask for a retainer of $2,500 for a typical family law case. However, for a more complicated case, retainers may amount to $5,000 or higher. To calculate your retainer amount, your attorney will review your case and estimate the number of hours that he or she will have to put into your case based on prior experience.

Flat Rate

Some attorneys, such as traffic and criminal law attorneys, charge a flat rate. For example, if you have a DUI and need to get your license back, the attorney might charge a $2,000 flat rate. The retainer contract will spell out what that rate includes in terms of legal services. If the attorney has to do anything extra, he or she may add those charges to your account.
For example, a $2,000 flat-rate fee for a DUI might include up to two letters, representation at the arraignment and one or two additional hearings, settlement negotiations with the prosecutor, and request and review of evidence from the prosecutor and the arresting agency. The attorney may charge his hourly rate for anything else that might unexpectedly come up, such as an appeal.


Some attorneys—mostly personal injury lawyers—take cases on a contingency basis. These attorneys keep track of the hours that they work on a case and any costs associated with that case. However, you do not pay upfront for the consultation or the attorney’s representation. In fact, many attorneys do not require clients to pay upfront even for costs, such as postage, copies, depositions, court reporters, mediation or arbitration, the costs of obtaining medical records, expert witnesses, and more.
Instead, the attorney will bill costs and his or her time against your settlement or jury trial award. For example, if you win $2,000,000 and have $100,000 in costs, the attorney will subtract his percentage, defined in your retainer contract, plus the costs of $100,000 from the amount you settle for or the amount the court orders the defendant to pay you.
The attorney will instruct the defendant to write a check out to the attorney’s IOLTA account, which is an account used to hold clients’ money. The attorney subtracts what you owe, then cuts you a check for the balance. An attorney that works on contingency usually does not charge you if you lose your case.
Attorneys represent clients on a contingency basis for personal injury cases, because the clients’ injuries might not allow them to work or otherwise earn income. Injured victims have enough stress trying to meet all of their financial requirements, such as paying bills and putting food on the table for their families. Without the added stress of paying for legal representation, injured individuals can concentrate on recovering.

Who Pays My Medical Bills?

You will still have to pay your medical bills. However, most doctors and medical facilities will postpone collection if they know you are suing or attempting to settle a personal injury case. Most doctors and facilities will continue to bill you, but they will not report you to the agencies, as the healthcare professionals understand that they will get paid once their settlement or trial award comes through. If a doctor asks for documentation of your case, ask your attorney to write a letter that you can provide to your doctors.

Do I Have to Retain an Attorney?

While you do not have to retain an attorney for some basic legal issues, you should always retain an attorney for personal injury issues, as these cases can become complicated, especially if they involve multiple at-fault parties. In most car accident cases, injured individuals not only have to deal with the defendant’s attorney, but also with the defendant’s insurance company’s attorney. If your case involves several defendants, then you may have to deal with double the number of attorneys.
For example, depending on the specific circumstances, your case may involve the following attorneys:

  • Your insurance company’s attorney
  • The driver’s attorney
  • The driver’s insurance company’s attorney
  • The driver’s employer’s attorney
  • The driver’s employer’s insurance company’s attorney
  • Attorneys for the maintenance company if a maintenance issue caused the accident
  • Attorneys for the dispatcher and the dispatcher’s insurance company if the dispatch center is partially or wholly at fault for the accident
  • Attorneys for another involved entity and its insurance company’s attorneys

Because of the complexity of what you may otherwise view as a simple personal injury case, it is too easy to jeopardize your case because you made an administrative mistake, such as missing a deadline or neglecting to send pleadings to all attorneys. If you were in an accident, contact an experienced attorney to schedule a free consultation.

September 1, 2020

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