How lawyers charge their clients
There are a variety of payment options that a lawyer may choose to utilize depending upon the specific case, the difficulty involved, and a combination of many other factors. It's usually up to the lawyer how they will charge you for their services, but there are four standard possibilities that they will likely choose from:
Hourly Fee: This fee is strictly based on the amount of time it takes to complete the case. Oftentimes it comes in the form of an advanced payment or deposit. The lawyer will quote the amount that he/she thinks will be needed to complete your case, deposit the payment into a trust account, and then withdraw the money as he/she earns it throughout the life of the case.
Flat Fee: This one-time fee is charged either at the beginning or end of the case and it is good for all the work done throughout.
Contingent Fee: In this case, you are only required to pay your lawyer if the case is won or a settlement is reached before the matter goes to court. There may still be some expenses even if the case is lost, but your lawyer will not be paid for his/her work on your case. The majority of lawyers will charge a percentage of the amount won or settled for in the case, which may result in a higher amount than if the lawyer simply billed on a flat fee or an hourly basis because he/she is risking not being paid at all. The percentage charged will be determined by the amount of work and difficulty involved in the case, and how certain the lawyer is that you will win. Percentages can range from 25%-50% of the amount recovered, which you will arrange before the case begins. Your lawyer is required to put this agreement into a written contract that both of you must sign.
Retainer Fee: The term “retainer” is often misused, but the correct definition is: a fee paid to a lawyer to ensure that the lawyer will be available in case the need arises for the lawyer's legal advice or services in the future. This is typically used by businesses who want to guarantee that they have access to legal advice on the chance that the need will arise.
There are other factors that may affect the costs as well. Your lawyer will likely charge you based on the amount of time and effort that will be necessary on your particular case. Thus if your legal issues are extremely difficult or unusual, the fee may be more than for a routine matter.
Some other factors involved in determining the price of service include the urgency of the legal matter presented, if the lawyer must stop work on other cases in order to handle yours the fee might be greater; the lawyer's experience, if your lawyer has a lot of experience, special skills, or an excellent reputation in a certain area of the law you may be required to pay more for that talent; whether or not you're a long term client, if you've done business with a lawyer from that firm before you might be charged