How Much Is a Lawyer Going to Cost You?

One of the primary reasons people are unsure of whether or not to hire a lawyer, even in situations where they really need one, is because of the costs. Lawyers are well-trained and well-educated professional services providers, so they do come at a cost, but their services can mean a life-changing difference in your case. 

Most types of lawyers, including criminal defense, family, and corporate lawyers work by the hour or sometimes by the case. Personal injury lawyers work on contingency, which is different. A personal injury lawyer doesn’t receive compensation if they don’t get compensation for you. 

If they take your case and they do help you recover compensation then they will receive a percentage of whatever the settlement or judgment is and expenses. You don’t pay a personal injury lawyer out-of-pocket, which is discussed a bit more below. 

Even so, the most common reasons people hire lawyers often involve civil situations and family law-related cases such as divorces or child custody, as well as for things like estate planning. You will have to pay lawyers out-of-pocket most of the time in those scenarios, and the following are things to know about how much they may charge. 

Civil Cases Not Involving Injuries 

Things like estate planning, real estate, and family law are all considered non-injury civil cases, which are typically billed on an hourly basis. 

You’re probably going to pay more per hour depending on how experienced the lawyer, as well as the type of case and its complexity. 

If you need someone who specializes in any particular area, you’re probably going to pay more. 

Along with the ongoing hourly fee, you’ll probably have to pay an upfront retainer when an attorney agrees to take on your case, meaning that you’re securing their services. 

A retainer is an amount of money that reflects a certain number of hours the lawyer would work. You pay in advance, and then if you go beyond that amount with the services your lawyer performs, you pay more by the hour. 

Most lawyers will charge anywhere from $100 to $400 an hour, and sometimes more as well as less than that. 

A lawyer will track their hours and then bill you for them, and you pay these fees regardless of the outcome of your case. 

There’s something to understand when paying a lawyer hourly, which is called the billing increment. A billing increment is the shortest time period a lawyer will bill you for. Most lawyers track it in 1/10 increments, so that’s the smallest amount you’ll be billed. 

Flat Rate

It’s possible that an attorney might charge you a fixed or flat fee. This can happen in criminal cases, and also in situations such as creating an estate plan which is fairly basic and straightforward. The lawyer may agree to create the plan for a set price, and that’s it. 

Usually, flat fees are reserved for simpler situations. 

Criminal cases can be very complex and detailed, which is why these lawyers may not charge by the hour. 


This was covered above but is worth mentioning again. Another pricing structure is called a contingent fee. With a contingent fee, your lawyer only gets paid if you come to a certain outcome. For example, if your case is ruled in your favor, then your lawyer would get paid, but otherwise wouldn’t. 

This would usually be how a lawyer would charge in a personal injury case, as was discussed above, but it might also be how a lawyer is paid in a class action case or a medical malpractice case. 

Pro Bono

Some lawyers put time aside in their schedule each year to do something called pro bono work, which means for the common good in Latin. 

Pro bono just refers to a situation where an attorney would work for a client without the client paying a fee. 

Typically to obtain pro bono legal work you would need to go through a legal aid assistance group or organization. 

Finally, there are separate expenses to be aware of beyond the contingency or hourly fee an attorney charges. 

Attorney fees can include the cost to file documents, travel expenses, the fees to obtain expert witnesses, and copy and document fees. 

You need to speak with an attorney before you hire them about what the expenses will be and what you’ll be responsible for beyond their billable hours. This was mentioned above, but even in a contingency situation, you may have to cover expenses. 

Be very clear with an attorney when you start working with them about how they’re going to charge you, so you aren’t caught off guard. 

How Much Is a Lawyer Going to Cost You? 3
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