Many life events require the services of a legal professional. Victims of car accidents, people getting divorced, and those filing for bankruptcy all need competent legal representation. Attorneys may also be necessary for people who have been charged with a DUI (driving while under the influence), those who need to draw up a will, and entrepreneurs who want to incorporate their businesses.
The primary concern for most people when they consider hiring a lawyer is the cost. They wonder, “How much will I have to pay to hire an attorney?” Because of the cultural stereotypes from television and movies, many people think that they won’t even be able to speak with an attorney without incurring a huge bill.
While these concerns are understandable, they are mostly misplaced. When it comes to hiring a personal injury attorney, there is usually no cost to you unless the lawyer wins your case. That’s because most lawyers work on contingency. Their fee depends on their ability to win. No win – no fee.
Different Kinds of Attorneys
Although many people don’t realize it, there are different kinds of lawyers and legal specialties. While all attorneys are required to pass the bar exam to become licensed, there are many different areas of legal expertise.
Many years ago, there were some lawyers who worked in several different areas of the law. These attorneys were known as “generalists.” They might write wills, defend clients accused of criminal charges, and oversee real estate sales. But these days, there are very few generalists still practicing.
Modern lawyers are more likely to be specialists, focusing their expertise on mastering a small number of specific areas of the legal system.
For instance, there are:
- Business Lawyers
- Tax Lawyers
- Wills and Trusts Lawyers
- Personal Injury Lawyers
- Criminal Defense Lawyers
- Immigration Lawyers
- Environmental Lawyers
- Civil Rights Lawyers
These different types of attorneys have very distinct focuses. While it might sound like a good idea to have a lawyer who can “do it all,” it is much more effective to hire a legal professional who is an expert in their field.
Typically, Your Initial Consultation is Free
While different lawyers may charge in different ways, many share a common practice. Most types of attorneys offer a completely free initial legal consultation to potential clients. This means that you can schedule a no-cost meeting to discuss any legal matter in which you might want legal representation. In most cases, this initial meeting will be free to you.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. Some attorneys charge potential clients for an initial consultation. They do this to avoid meeting with people who are only trying to take advantage of their time and have no intention of hiring them.
If you have been injured in an accident, a free legal consultation is an excellent way to determine whether or not you want a particular lawyer to represent your interests. An initial meeting is an opportunity for the attorney to learn the facts of your case. But it can also help you to decide if you trust the person to be your legal representative.
Common Ways that Lawyers Charge for Work
When you decide to hire a lawyer for your case, the two of you will formally enter into an attorney-client relationship. The document that details this agreement is usually known as a “retention agreement,” “fee agreement,” or “legal services agreement.” This document will specify the services that you can expect from your lawyer and how you intend to pay them.
There are a few common ways that attorneys charge for their work:
Contingency Fee Agreements (Most Personal Injury Attorneys Charge This Way)
Personal injury lawyers usually are paid based on contingency fee arrangements. This means that the client pays nothing upfront. Instead, payment is contingent on the lawyer securing compensation in the client’s case. Simply put, if you don’t get paid, your attorney doesn’t get paid. Because of this, personal injury attorneys are usually the most affordable type of lawyer you can use.
The contingency fee agreement will specify a percentage of the money recovered from your case that will be used as payment. Your attorney provides their services in exchange for this percentage of your financial recovery. Some contingency fee agreements include a sliding scale of percentages, depending on the total amount of financial recovery in the case.
This type of agreement will also include information about who pays for the administrative costs associated with the claim. For instance, will you front the money for travel expenses, filing fees, and document reproduction costs or will your attorney front the money for those costs? If the law firm fronts the money for administrative expenses, you will have to repay those costs out of the financial recovery, as well.
It’s important to discuss whether those costs will be deducted from your financial award before or after the attorney’s fee is calculated. That can actually make a big difference in how much you ultimately walk away with when your case is resolved.
Hourly Fee Agreements (Personal Injury Lawyers Usually Don’t Charge This Way)
Many types of lawyers charge their clients for their services per hour. This type of fee can become expensive for clients very quickly, with rates usually running in hundreds of dollars each hour. In hourly fee billing arrangements, the attorney may require the client to pay a retainer cost.
A legal retainer is an upfront payment that secures the lawyer’s services for the client. The attorney will then charge per hour on an ongoing basis for all work related to that client.
Flat Fee Agreements
Usually, flat fee agreements are applied in cases in which there is a determined legal service that the attorney is providing. In these instances, the lawyer can accurately estimate the amount of work necessary to fulfill their service.
- Uncontested divorce filings
- Drafting a will or trust
- Filing a patent, trademark, or copyright application
- Overseeing residential real estate closings or sales
Personal injury lawyers very rarely work for a flat fee. Rather, as discussed above, most accident attorneys work on contingency. This helps to ensure the fee that’s paid is fair and reasonable at the end of the day.