Paying for Your Lawyer: The Different Fee Structures Available


When you need a lawyer, you can’t get one free unless you have a generous family member who passed the bar. Usually, you must set up a payment structure that works for both you and the lawyer. Each attorney typically has a fee structure that they prefer.

We’ll talk about some different lawyer payment methods now. Make sure you work out how you’ll pay before officially hiring the lawyer, or you might get a nasty shock when you see their bill.

Contingency Payment Plans

Only some lawyers will do contingency payment plans. When you pay an attorney on contingency, that usually means you only pay them if they win a lawsuit for you. 

These setups typically happen when you retain a lawyer before your personal injury case. A person or entity harmed you, and now you’re suing them and hopefully getting money to cover your medical bills, pain and suffering, etc.

Contingency fee payments usually equal between 30-40% of the final settlement. That might seem like a lot, but consider for a moment.

When you hire a lawyer for a personal injury lawsuit, they will only take you on if they think you can win. Once you hire them, they start working for you. They will gather all the evidence they can, so you’re in the best position when the trial begins.

Your lawyer puts in long hours preparing your case. They may have investigators on their payroll digging up all the available evidence. They must pay those investigators, and they must also take time and find eyewitnesses. They must hire expert witnesses who can back up your assertions.

If your lawyer helps you win your lawsuit, you should happily give them 30-40%. If they fail, you pay them nothing, which probably suits you fine. You get no money from the defendant, but at least you don’t owe the lawyer on top of that.

By-the-Hour Contracts

Maybe you hire a lawyer, and they do something completely different for you. Some lawyers do personal injury cases, but others practice other law varieties.

For example, maybe you need a lawyer because you’re drawing up your will, or you need some specific legal advice, and you know this attorney makes that particular niche their specialty. They might quote you a per-hour price, and you agree you’ll pay it.

You can usually understand these contracts with little difficulty. The lawyer tracks how much time they put in on your legal issue, and then they bill you afterward.

You should keep one thing in mind with per-hour contracts. Just talking on the phone with your attorney probably triggers their per-hour fee. If you want clarification on this point before hiring them, ask them. That way, you won’t feel mystified if they charge you more money than you anticipated.

By-the-Job Contracts

Some lawyers also charge by the job. You might hire an attorney and have them do a particular task for you. Maybe you don’t like the by-the-hour pay structure, or perhaps this lawyer does not offer it for some reason.

Either way, you tell them what you want, and they quote you a price. If that amount seems reasonable, you can accept it. You can also try negotiating.

If you’re dealing with a neophyte lawyer who just passed the bar, they might accept a lower rate for a job or a lower by-the-hour rate. If they’ve been in business longer, they likely won’t negotiate, and they might become impertinent if you even suggest paying them less.  

Additional Details You Should Know

If lawyers have more industry expertise or they got their start many years ago, they will likely charge you more. Also, if they have very niche experience, they’ll probably charge more. 

Virtually any personal injury lawyer can help you with a lawsuit. Only certain lawyers have more specialized information and expertise in a very narrow law area.

Also, lawyers that have high-powered firms behind them usually charge more. You must pay more because you’re getting that law firm’s famous name.

Maybe you won’t like paying more if you hire a famous or prestigious law firm, but you’re getting name recognition. If you hire a renowned law firm and you’re suing some business entity, they’ll probably quake in their shoes when they hear who’s opposing them in court. You may win the case before it even starts.

Make sure you know the pay structure before hiring your lawyer and ask any questions to clarify confusing points.

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