Frequently Asked Questions
How do lawyers compute their fees?
There are 4 usual methods of calculating legal fees:
- Hourly fee arrangements – Depends on the circumstances of the case and experience and expertise of the lawyer. You will most likely be responsible for your lawyer’s out-of-pocket expenses as well as for time spent performing purely “legal” work, such as drafting documents, phone conferences, meetings, legal research and court appearances. Examples of out-of-pocket expenses include filing fees, deposition expenses, expert-witness fees, travel expenses, sheriff’s fees, transcript expenses and other incidental expenses.
- Contingent fee arrangements – Primarily used in personal injury, social security and collection cases (not allowed in criminal and divorce cases). Your lawyer receives no fee unless you recover money. If money is recovered, the lawyer is paid by receiving an agreed-upon percentage of the recovery, ranging from 25-40% or more if extremely complex or appeal is required. You will still be responsible for out-of-pocket expenses. In the event you dismiss your lawyer prior to the conclusion of the matter, you may still be required to pay a reasonable fee for services rendered to that date. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court requires lawyers to put all continigent fee agreements in writing. Both you and your lawyer sign and you must be given a signed copy.
- Flat fee arrangements – Your lawyer will render a specific legal service for a fixed amount. Criminal defense matters or the preparation of wills are often subjects of the flat fee arrangement.
- Percentage fee arrangements – Often used in the administration of estates or when a lawyer represents the buyer or seller of a home. The fee for administration of an estate or the probate of a will may be fixed by a percentage of the value of the property. Similarly, the fee for representing a home buyer or seller may be determined by a fixed percentage of the value of the house or the amount of the mortgage.
When do you pay?
Most cases require that you pay a retainer fee or deposit that will be applied to expenses or future charges. You should expect to pay this fee when a lawyer agrees to represent you. Frequently, a lawyer will bill you periodically and you can ask for an itemized account of services preformed and expenses paid. Contingent fees are billed upon completion, except for expenses for which you may be billed while the case is in progress.
When should you discuss fees?
You and your lawyer should discuss the cost of legal services during the initial interview. Your lawyer may not be able to forecast the exact amount of time and effort required, but will be able to give you an estimate based upon past experience. Your lawyer can sometimes give a quote for the total charge, or give an hourly rate figure for the estimated time required. At times, the lawyer may nit be able to tell how much work will be involved or what resukt will be achieved. In these cases, the lawyer cannot set a fee but can explain to you how the fee will be determined.