Depending on the firm or lawyer you are hiring and the type of legal services you are in need of, the rates and payment methods will vary.
It’s important to understand the different methods for paying your lawyer before making any arrangements. This way you are able to shop around and find the right lawyer for you, your needs, and your budget.
Common Billing Methods
Typically, there are 4 common billing methods that lawyers will use, depending on the services they are offering.
These are the most basic form billing any lawyer will use.
Flat fees are predetermined costs affixed to certain services that a lawyer may offer – typically used for services that are relatively straightforward and have little or no unknown factors involved.
Of course, some lawyers prefer a flat, or fixed fee, regardless of the work being done. Not only is this easier for the firm, but also for you, as a client.
For fixed rate services, the cost will be based on a variety of factors. For more straightforward tasks, such as legal paperwork, the cost will simply reflect how long the service will take.
For more complex services, such as casework, the fee will reflect factors such as a time estimate, the experience of the lawyer requested, the seriousness of the offence, and any additional expenses the lawyer may face through the course of the case.
Most commonly, lawyers will charge an hourly rate.
Hourly rates are the most common because they are the easiest billing method to implement for a service that will take an undetermined amount of time and work. Typically this billing method is used for casework.
With this method, your lawyer will give you an estimate of the cost based on their rate and how long they think the work will take. They will keep a record of the time spent on your case, and will bill you the total amount upon completion.
Every lawyer will have a different hourly rate – and some lawyer’s will have different hourly rates for different case types. These rates will reflect both the lawyer’s experience and quality of work, as well as the complexity of the work being done.
Contingency fees are used in services that may or may not result in you being awarded financial compensation, and are usually accompanied by a small fixed fee.
Cases such as accident or injury claims are the most common when referring to contingency fees. If you and your lawyer win the case, your lawyer will generally take a certain percentage, known as the contingency, as payment. If you do not win the case, you then pay only the fixed fee.
These fees are similar to contingency fees, but are used in legal transactions in which you, the client, are dealing with assets, rather than potential financial compensation.
The best example of when percentage fees are used is when you are either buying or selling real estate. In this case, your lawyer will take a percentage of the transaction amount.
The agreed upon percentage will depend on the asset in question, the quality and experience of the lawyer you are using, and how quickly the job is done.
Get it in Writing
One of the most important aspects in terms of payment for legal services is to come to an agreement on the type of billing to be used and the fees and rates being charged before any actual services are provided.
This not only ensures that both parties are well informed of, and in accordance with the payment type and amount, but provides a legally binding agreement for said payment.
Do your research and speak with your lawyer to avoid any miscommunication and unexpected costs – you won’t regret it.