How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?
Almost everyone needs an attorney at some point in their life. They may need legal representation for any number of reasons such as a car accident, a tax problem, or a criminal matter. Everyone who needs a lawyer wants to know how much the lawyer will cost, but that information can be surprisingly hard to find. We created this page to be transparent. If people don’t know how much a lawyer costs and feel uncomfortable asking, they may go without a lawyer even if they need one. That isn’t good.
On this page, we talk about the different ways that lawyers charge. (In Georgia and elsewhere, lawyers tend to charge for their services in the same ways.) We also discuss our firm specifically, and explain how much we charge to work on a case. Like most personal injury lawyers in Georgia and elsewhere, we charge a percentage of what we win, meaning that our client doesn’t owe us anything unless and until we recover money for our client. Read more about that, and more about our specific percentages, below.
Factors that Can Affect Attorney Fees
Lawyers have a variety of fee structures, and certain lawyers are just more expensive than others. Factors that can affect attorney fees are
- Their area of practice. Some types of law are more complex than others, and lawyer fees reflect that.
- Amount of time the lawyer spends on your problem, particularly if the lawyer is charging hourly.
- The specific lawyer’s reputation and level of expertise.
- The attorney’s overhead. A firm in a posh downtown office may need to charge more than a firm on the outskirts of town.
- Area of the country. Some geographic regions have a higher cost of living than others, and attorney fees follow the local economy.
- Difficulty of your legal issue.
- Cases tend to cost more if they must be litigated.
At Butler Tobin, our fee is a percentage of the amount of money we’re able to recover for our client. If we don’t recover any money for our client, then our client doesn’t have to pay us. Our percentage varies depending on the complexity and riskiness of the case, but it is usually between 33% and 45%.
Costs vs. Fees
Before we get into a further discussion about attorney fees, it’s important to distinguish between attorney fees and costs. An attorney fee is what an attorney is paid for their services. Costs and expenses are different—they are the costs that must be paid to third parties in order to bring your case. Costs and expenses would include paying for things like court filings, court reporters for depositions or hearings, document copies, travel expenses, costs to serve subpoenas, and anything else really that is not an attorney fee.
At Butler Tobin, we advance all litigation costs. The costs that we advance include the costs of gathering records, filing costs, deposition costs, the costs to travel or meet with witnesses, etc. We get paid back for those expenses at the end of the case if we win the case for our client. If we lose, our firm loses that money.
When you have a contingency fee arrangement, you pay your attorney an agreed upon percentage of compensation you are awarded or that is negotiated in a settlement. In other words, if you lose your case and don’t get any money yourself, you don’t pay your attorney. (This is how Butler Tobin works.) The percentage of you would pay your attorney varies according to the law firm, the type of case, and how far the case goes before it is resolved. If you must go to trial, the fee is likely to be higher. Many personal injury attorneys charge contingency fees—that means that unless your lawyer wins, your lawyer does not get paid. Some firms that charge contingency fees, like Butler Tobin, will also cover the case expenses for you, and get paid back for those case expenses only after a successful settlement or judgment.
If you are in an accident or suffer some other kind of injury for which you feel you should be compensated, there is no downside to calling for an appointment to learn your options if your attorney charges a contingency fee. If you proceed with your case, you won’t need to lose sleep at night worrying how you will pay your attorney. At Butler Tobin, if we don’t win your case, you won’t owe us a dime.
As mentioned, contingency fees are common for personal injury cases but not exclusive to them. However, lawyers are not allowed to charge contingency fees for some services, such as representing you in a child support matter. In some areas of the law, such as corporate tax consultation, a contingency fee simply would not be feasible, because there is rarely a court award or settlement involved with the work.
Many attorneys charge by the hour, and they have done so for years. All the factors mentioned in the first section, such as the attorney’s expertise and area of practice, will play into the hourly amount an attorney charges. They could charge $75 an hour or over $1,000 an hour. It is not necessarily less expensive for you in the long run to hire an attorney with a lower hourly rate. The more expensive attorney may work faster and be able to negotiate a better resolution. Or they may have a track record of winning more cases for bigger dollars. On the other hand, the most expensive attorneys are not always the best ones either. So, don’t be afraid to interview your attorney and ask about their experience and successes.
Be aware that even attorneys working in the same firm will not have the same hourly rates. A partner with extensive experience will charge more than a junior associate. Sometimes you will have a team of lawyers on your case, who all charge different rates. Also, different types of work may be charged differently. For example, many attorneys charge more per hour for going to trial than for other work they do. Some attorneys who charge hourly give a free or inexpensive first consultation. Make sure you understand the consultation fee when you make your first appointment.
The disadvantage of hourly fees when you sue someone is that you must pay your attorney whether or not you win the case. If you lose, you could come out worse than when you started.
A flat fee is simply an agreed upon sum for specific work. You will sometimes see flat fees advertised for DUIs, uncontested divorces, wills, and other simple relatively legal work.
A retainer fee can mean two different things. If your attorney wants a retainer fee, make sure they explain exactly what they mean.
- A retainer fee is usually a monthly payment to be available for legal matters that come up, and to do specific ongoing work. Businesses often have attorneys on retainer.
- Sometimes when lawyers refer to a retainer fee, they are talking about money paid to the attorney in advance. The attorney places it in a separate bank account and withdraws costs or other types of payments as they are incurred.
Some attorney fees are set out in statutory law. This is unusual, but fees are sometimes regulated by law in certain in probate or bankruptcy proceedings.
Talk with Your Attorney
It’s important to have a basic understanding of attorney fee structures, but it is just as important to communicate with your attorney. If you have questions about fees or costs, don’t hesitate to ask at any point. A good Georgia attorney should be happy to discuss their attorney fee structure with you.