Hiring legal help is handy. Attorneys are almost always required to have malpractice insurance. Of course, attorneys are also required to have seven years of post-high school education and must have also passed the “bar exam”.
As is the case with hiring anyone with credentials, there is a cost. There are a few primary methods of determining legal fees.
Most attorneys bill clients for the attorneys’ time. This hourly rate structure provides that an attorney will charge an hourly fee of anywhere from $75 to $750 (for our region) per hour for the time that the attorney spends on a client’s work. Understandably, hourly rates for more experienced attorneys are usually higher than the rates for less experienced attorneys. Most attorneys will charge a lower hourly rate for time invested by their paralegals and administrative assistants.
Many attorneys no longer charge for photocopies or for the use of long-distance telephone service or fax machines. However, the time invested while undertaking phone calls, faxing and emailing is usually billed as a part of a law firm’s hourly rates.
Most often in the context of personal injury matters, attorneys may charge their clients a contingent fee. That contingent fee can be anywhere from 25% to 45% of the amount recovered for that client. This structure essentially means that the more the client gets, the more the attorney gets. Advertisements by attorneys asserting that “I don’t get paid unless you get paid,” are explaining contingent fee arrangements. In these arrangements, if the attorney recovers no money for the client, the client may still be required to pay people other than the attorney, like expert witnesses, court reporters and filing fees.
Contingent fee billing is generally not allowed for many domestic matters (divorce, etc.) and criminal matters. Therefore, an attorney cannot set the fee at $5,000 if the client is found not guilty and only $500 if the client is found guilty.
Some businesses have subscription legal services that are provided to the businesses’ employees. There is usually a limit on the scope of work that can be provided at no charge to employees of businesses who have this arrangement.
Many attorneys will charge a flat fee for work. For instance, a will might cost anywhere from $150 to $750. This is most common in transactional matters like estate planning, real estate and probate/estate administration. The larger and more complex the transaction, the higher the flat fee.
Many attorneys will ask for a retainer or deposit to begin work. Until an attorney does the work to earn the retainer, the attorney cannot place that retainer money into the attorney’s personal bank account. Instead, until the work that the retainer covers is paid, the attorney must keep the retainer money in a separate account that is overseen by The Ohio Supreme Court.
Attorneys may try to give estimates on legal fee totals for a project. However, especially for lawsuits, totals are often hard to estimate in advance because it is often impossible to know opposing parties’ expectations and resolve.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.