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How Attorney Fees Work and What to Expect
By Bob Escobar

If you've never hired an attorney you probably have questions about attorney fees and how they work. To state it plain and simple - fees vary from one attorney to another. Some charge more, some charge less and they usually go about charging you in three different ways. Each fee method has its pros and cons for both the client and the attorney with various risks and rewards. You may be charged on a contingency basis - meaning you pay nothing until you win. Normally the attorney assumes a higher risk unless they have confidence in your case and its chances of winning. Second fee method involves hourly billing - you get billed per each hour of attorney's time. The obvious negative to that is you might be stuck with a large bill even if you win nothing. On the upside of hourly billing, you may win a large settlement and won't have to give a significant portion away to your lawyer. Lastly, your attorney may charge you a flat fee. Flat fee method is similar to hourly billing, in terms that you won't pay more if you win a larger settlement.

In contingency fee cases, your attorney will examine your case and let you know whether they are willing to pursue it - based on expected case outcome. The attorney is expected to cover all expenses throughout the trial including filing fees, court reporter fees, witness fees and deposition expenses. You should note however, in the event that you don't win your case you may be required to cover the above fees. Contingency billing only covers the lawyer's fee, not the additional expenses and required fees that come out of the case proceedings. In an event that you win your case, contingency fees can significantly reduce your final settlement amounts. Some attorneys charge as much as 30 to 40 percent of your final settlement.

Flat fees are normally used by attorneys for regular matters such as contract drafting, wills, deeds etc. These are often simple cases or procedures where the attorney is already familiar with expenses and time involved and can charge you accordingly.

Hourly fees - the third type of fee is normally used for anything non-routine or cases that involve personal settlements such as in the case of personal injury. Fees vary across the board from $200 an hour to over $1000 an hour depending on the type of case and the number of years of experience an attorney has. Most attorneys require an upfront fee with the hourly billing plan and will adjust their hourly fee based on the amount you pay up front. To get an accurate idea of how much time will be spent on your case, you should ask your attorney for a list of itemized time expenditures that the attorney foresees.

Whenever hiring an attorney be sure to discuss not only your case and the attorney's experience, but also how they are planning on billing you. Most lawyers allow for free initial consultation so you should be prepared to fire away with any questions you might have. Don't be shy - there is no room for shyness when it comes to costly attorney fees, thus you should clarify any and all questions and concerns you might have. Having a clear picture of what is involved and how everything works will ensure an honest relationship with your attorney.

Bob Escobar is a frequent guest writer for LAAttorneyLawyer, Eminent Domain Attorneys who specialize in eminent domain and inverse condemnation.

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