It's ironic that when most of us need an Attorney, it's usually an urgent matter, and yet we hesitate and ask ourselves 'can we afford this; because we don't have a clue how much Attorneys charge per hour!
• Standard Attorney Fees can range from $ 250 to $ 600 per hour
• For criminal cases & minor misdemeanors $1000
• Complex Divorce Cases & Custody Battles $5000 or more
Between £100 to £ 450 per hour
The above details are there simply to give us an idea of fees in various areas of each of those three countries plus some of the various services for which you'll pay.
We also inserted here some useful comparative figures from other countries to give us some baselines to use in proportionate comparisons. We can discuss these figures in more detail further along in this article.
It is not felt necessary to display prices of the two other countries any further in this article; we will remain now with costs in the USA.
Money, costs, fees and charges bring out the best and worst in us. We all view them differently. Some people live entirely off credit – just paying off the credit and never remembering what it was for.
Other people use credit for big purchases and keep tabs of their substantial purchases. Still, yet there are other people with what is considered an old-fashioned view of 'if you can't afford it you can have it'.
Similarly, there is different thinking behind setting the hourly rates for Law Firms.
We've begun this conversation by asking how much Attorneys charge, and we've continued by discussing hourly rates, but we haven't mentioned the different charging methods.
For example, some Attorneys charge a Flat Rate Fee for certain matters. Other Attorneys charge a Contingency fee of some issues; and then let's not forget Retainer Fees and other financial details. But how do they all work?
This is a fairly standard concept. Attorneys charge a standard hourly rate according to the type of case you bring them, and the amount of experience they've had, coupled with their standing (or pecking order) in the Law Firm where they work.
They might even charge slightly different hourly rates according to the complexity and estimated duration of the case – notwithstanding how involved they, themselves will be in your matter (i.e. they may have a paralegal assist them), and also their qualifications and (as mentioned) their ranking within the Firm.
Obviously, it's unlikely that anyone in the Firm will give you an accurate quotation because they cannot – unless they know in advance every single detail and aspect of what will happen in the future with your matter – impossible!
They can give you a quotation of what they estimate it will cost, but remember, a court appearance can often enormously increase the costs and don't forget the research time and so on, which is why only an estimate can be given at the outset.
Now let's amplify on the standard Attorney fees as mentioned above. Let's say that in one particular area, they range from between $250 to $600 an hour for basic legal work.
Whereas in this same area, standard legal fees for criminal cases and minor misdemeanors cost approximately $1000; complicated divorce cases and custody battles might cost you $1000 per hour, or more. So, the fees would look something like this:
Criminal – Misdemeanor $ 1 000
Criminal – Felony $ 3 500+
Pre-nuptial agreement $ 1 500 - $ 500
Simple Estate Plan $ 1 500 - $ 300
Complex Estate Plan $20 000 - $ 5 000
Uncontested Divorce $ 1 500 - $ 700
Contested Divorce or Custody Battle $ 5 000+
Some Law Firm will not charge for the first consultation. Therefore, they only start billing the Client once they receive instruction from that Client.
There are other Law Firms that might perhaps bill the Client only half of their usual hourly rate for the initial consultation. Then there are Law Firms who start as they mean to continue, by charging the Client their full hourly rate even on the initial consultation. This last type is more the rule than the exception.
Sometimes you may come across an Attorney who is prepared to charge you all-inclusive, flat-rate fees for basic projects. These flat fees could range from, say, $700 to an uncontested divorce, to R1 000 to write a pre-nuptial agreement.
One could say that hiring a Lawyer on a flat rate basis really simplifies things if it is for, say, a basic, no-frills Will - $300, but a more complex Will and Estates could easily cost your $1 200+ - but you know where you stand, from a cost point of view.
You would think that flat rate means 'all in', i.e., a complete package – no more, no less. However, watch out for the small print because if you fail to comply with every single term listed in your contract, that gives your Attorney the right to charge you for unexpected additional costs that you may encounter.
Therefore, let's establish here that a Flat Fee Lawyer working, say, on an uncontested divorce, may still have the right to charge for all court appearance for example, and, in addition to that, they are allowed to offer you a flat rate only if you haven't any property issues and you're not involved with any child support.
So, don't forget that sometimes, everything is not what it seems, and don't make any assumptions.
A basic retainer cost for Attorneys could be from $2 000 to $100 000. That quite a difference and but the fee depends on what kind of matter for which you need legal assistance and which Lawyer you select to instruct to handle the matter.
The way in which it's put together is that it could be seen as the initial down payment towards for full account or, it could be interpreted as a sort of reservation or holding fee to book an Attorney's services exclusively for your matter – within a set period of time.
The Retainer supposedly guarantees the services of the Lawyer you've instructed. Every single Retainer Agreement is different and thus, unique to each Law Firm. They will never include all the same things as the other Retainers, and basically, because of this, you must very carefully understand every word before adding your signature, as these Retainers are non-refundable.
Some say a Lawyer who charges a Retainer fee is better than a Lawyer who doesn't. The truth is, the rumor is false, and it's best to phone different Lawyers in your area to get an idea of whether or not Retainers are standard practice for your own personal matter.
An Attorney Contingency Fee works on the basis that the Lawyer can take a certain percentage – to be agreed upon – of monies that the Attorney retrieves on your behalf in payment of their services.
This percentage usually works out to be a third of the legal settlement. However, were you to lose in court, you may still be left having to pay for the Lawyer's expenses – which are usually never cheap.
There are specific cases – such as child custody or criminal charges that are not eligible for the Contingency Fee structure because of this.
A Statutory Fee should also be mentioned here. It is actually a payment decided upon by the court or laws which apply to your case. You're unlikely to have any dealings with this unless with Probate of Bankruptcy.
No discussion would be complete without mentioning the Lega Aid Billing Rates. Let's explain it like this. Say, you're broke and aren't earning a sufficiently reasonable salary to keep yourself up to the expected norms of society.
Then you could approach the Legal Aid Board who would bring pressure to bear so that you would be paying considerably reduced hourly rates – or conversely, they may grant you the right to have your matter settled pro bono – for free.
You now know all the various ways that Attorneys charge. Also, you have a good idea of how all of these methods work. However, do you know what these fees cover? In other words, do you know what you get for your money?
The following is a list we randomly put together of all the basic things a Lawyer may bill you for:
• Traveling Expenses
• Time spent by Paralegals researching the case background
• Court Filing fees
• Delivery Charges
• Photocopying documents
• Phone Consultations
This list should give you an excellent idea of what your fees will include.
The original question was how much do Attorneys charge per hour. When we answered that question, it didn't really make sense unless we also responded to the question of how many different acceptable financial arrangements there were and how they were compiled.
Following that, we realized we have to explain how things worked and give you some idea of your options.
We hope now that this information has helped you sufficiently so that if you ever need the services of a Lawyer, you'll be more confident and be able to negotiate these financial terms as you'll have more knowledge of how things work.
Probably, now you're savvy with these details – you'll never need to instruct an Attorney in the future!