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Paying a Lawyer

By: the American Bar Association

Should I ask about fees when I hire a lawyer?

Before you agree to hire a lawyer, you should ask the lawyer for details about how he or she will calculate fees, what expenses you will be responsible for in addition to fees, an estimate of the total fees and expenses, and how long the legal matter will likely take to complete. If any of these are not clear to you, this is something you should try to discuss as soon as you realize that there could be a misunderstanding. At the same time, you should realize that a lawyer cannot usually predict exactly how many hours of work will be involved -- especially if the case involves a dispute with another party.

Even with the best preparation, misunderstandings and disagreements can develop between clients and lawyers. If you don't understand something your lawyer has done, or you feel that he or she has not acted in your best interests, you should talk about this with him or her as soon as possible.

How is a lawyer paid?

Lawyers normally charge for their work by the hour. Hourly rates vary by region, by the type of case and the experience of the lawyer. There are no guidelines or national standards for hourly fees. Rates may range from $60 to $300+ per hour.

Certain legal matters are handled differently. Personal injury cases are usually handled on a "contingent fee" basis. This means the lawyer will take a percentage (often 1/3) of any amount recovered (plus expenses). Some common types of matters -- such as uncontested divorce or personal bankruptcy -- may be offered on a "flat fee" basis.