Depending on the location, type of case, and the particular billing structure, the rates an attorney charges vary significantly. Attorneys may even charge different clients different amounts for similar legal matters. Some use sliding scales, while others have a set hourly rate.

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But no matter what you do, find out how much your lawyer will cost up front.

The first question you should ask is what sort of billing structure your lawyer uses. Generally, a lawyer will bill hourly, on contingency, on retainer, or with a flat fee.

An hourly rate is simply the amount a lawyer charges you per hour. You may also be billed at a reduced rate for the work of paralegals and support staff.

Contingency means that the lawyer will take a percentage of winnings from a civil case. Only certain types of cases can be billed on a contingency basis.

If you give your lawyer a retainer, this means you’ve provided them a lump sum up front to work on your case. Further charges may be incurred as the legal matter continues.

A flat fee is just that: a flat fee. Your lawyer will tell you a certain amount of money up front and you will pay this for the entirety of the case. Matters dealt with in this way are often quite simple.

A lengthier explanation can be found here. You should also research unbundling services as a way to lower your overall cost.

Once you’ve figured out how your lawyer will bill, you should have a better idea how much your legal matter will run you. If it’s a flat fee, you’ll work it out up front. If it’s on contingency, you’ll pay nothing until you receive settlements or civil damages. If it’s a retainer, you should make sure to review your billing statements and ask questions if you don’t understand.

For hourly rates, ask your attorney up front how much they charge and how long they think your case will take. Keep in mind that the hourly rate should not change -- and you should sign a contract memorializing the rate you’ve agreed to -- but that estimates can change wildly. Every legal issue is different and the estimate is, after all, just an educated guess.

Hourly rates are the most common fee arrangement and, as such, they vary significantly. You can pay anywhere from $50 to thousands per hour. Smaller towns and cities generally cost less while heavily populated, urban areas are most expensive. The more complicated the case and the more experienced the attorney, the more you’ll pay.

The national average is around $284 per hour. You can also consult the Laffey Matrix for attorney rates by years of experience. The Laffey Matrix is a widely accepted guide for determining typical lawyer rates that's prepared by the Civil Division of the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.

Remember: cheaper isn’t necessarily better. You should consider many factors when hiring an attorney. Do your research. Ask your friends and family. The right lawyer can make all the difference and there’s no reason to cut corners on an important legal issue.

Get started Start Your Legal Services Agreement Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.


Get started Start Your Legal Services Agreement Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.