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Ask Avvo: How much does a lawyer cost?

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Q: How much does a lawyer usually cost?

A: The cost of an attorney often depends on your location and what type of lawyer you’re looking for. You can start your search by choosing location and practice area in Avvo’s Lawyer Directory. As a general rule, the minimum rate for most attorneys is $149 per hour. However, some lawyers are willing to offer flat fee arrangements so you know the full price of your legal matter up front.

Read on for more information about costs and payment methods when hiring a lawyer.

What types of payment do lawyers usually accept?

Most lawyers accept standard payment methods, such as cash, check and credit cards. Common payments accepted by Avvo attorneys:

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Sometimes the method of payment will involve part of the amount of a settlement, so be sure to discuss payment options with your lawyer before signing a fee agreement. Most lawyers are also willing to set up a payment plan, if necessary.

What is a fee agreement?

A fee agreement, or representation agreement, is a payment agreement between a lawyer and a client. It can consist of several pages, or simply one page outlining the agreement. This document covers key issues such as how much you will be expected to pay for services rendered, how the lawyer will be paid, the timeline of payment, and which lawyer (if you’re using a multi-lawyer firm) will work on the case. Be sure to read the fee agreement carefully before signing it, so you know exactly what is expected of you and your lawyer.

Glossary of common costs when hiring a lawyer

  • Consultation fee: A lawyer may charge for you first consultation meeting, but be sure you know the charges before you hire a lawyer. Ask about consultation fees before you make an appointment, and how the fee is calculated (i.e. by the hour, half-hour or otherwise).
  • Contingency fees: A contingency fee means that your lawyer only gets paid this fee if there is a favorable result in your case — a court win or a settlement in your favor. Typically, but not always, these fees consist of around 1/3 of the total settlement or judgment.
  • Flat fees: A flat fee means that the lawyer charges one price for each consultation, or for an entire case, no matter how much time or work it takes. Be sure to ask other lawyers for comparable rates if offered a flat fee.
  • Hourly rate: Lawyers often charge an agreed-upon hourly rate for their work, and the work of their assistants. The hourly rate applies to both face-to-face consultations and behind-the-scenes work on your case. A good lawyer will usually be able to estimate the required number of hours per case in advance. The minimum hourly rate for most lawyers is $149 per hour.
  • Retainer fee: A retainer fee is an advance payment to an attorney towards the hourly rate in a specific case. Your attorney will place the retainer fee into an account, and deduct money as work on your case progresses. Retainer fees are usually non-refundable if you choose to terminate the case early.
  • Statutory fee: Sometimes, state or local law determines a set amount that you owe your attorney for certain services, like bankruptcy cases and probate issues. A court may also set a statutory fee, though this isn’t standard.
  • Court costs: Be sure that you know whether, and how much, you will owe in court costs for your legal issue. A good lawyer will be able to estimate court costs in a given situation, and whether or not you will be able to obtain court costs from an opposing party in a favorable settlement or judgment.
  • Filing fees: Courts charge money for people to be able to file lawsuits and other court actions, like divorce and bankruptcy. Ask your potential lawyer to explain these fees before you sign a fee agreement.
  • Secretarial time: Lawyers charge different hourly rates for their own work and the work of their secretaries and paralegals. Be sure to ask about the difference before you decide to hire a lawyer and sign a fee agreement.
  • Delivery fees: In some cases, lawyers use courier services to deliver legal documents to opposing parties and to the court. Ask about potential delivery fees before you sign a fee agreement.
NEXT: Read the full guide, “How to find and hire a great lawyer”

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