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Hiring a Lawyer


Every year, about 30,000 new attorneys join their colleagues in the practice of law. Deciding on the right attorney can be a difficult task. A potential client must be concerned not only with the lawyer's qualifications, but with the fee arrangements as well.

There are three basic types of fee arrangements that you and your attorney will discuss at your initial meeting: flat fee, hourly (non-contingent) fee, and contingency fee.

fundamental services, such as drawing a will or obtaining an uncontested divorce are generally done for a flat or stipulated fee.

When an attorney charges by the hour, the rate will vary based on your attorney’s experience and expertise; charges may range from $100-$200/hour or more. The attorney will usually ask for a retainer fee to pay for initial legal services in advance, and then bill you periodically as the case progresses. The attorney should be able to give you a reasonable estimate of anticipated fees. You are entitled to and should demand a complete breakdown of services rendered to accompany each billing statement. It may be possible to negotiate an agreement where an attorney will accept a flat, or non-contingent fee in an agreed amount, together with a smaller contingent percentage of any recovery for the balance of the fee; this is a way of sharing the risk.

In a contingency fee arrangement, the attorney will charge a fee only if he/she wins the case. If the attorney is successful in obtaining a recovery, you should expect to pay between 25-50% of the recovery, depending on what is usual in your state. Contingency fees are almost always charged in personal injury and malpractice actions.

There are costs associated with defending or prosecuting a case that will be client's responsibility. Costs may include:

Court filing fees

Expert witnesses
Copying costs.

In many contingency fee arrangements, the attorney will advance all costs and expect to be reimbursed from the final settlement. Often, an attorney will agree to absorb the costs if the case is lost.

If you file a lawsuit and lose, you may be responsible for the other side’s attorney’s fees and costs, depending on the type of the lawsuit.

Money is not the only factor to take into account when hiring an attorney; experience and qualifications are equally important. Just because an attorney has been in practice only for a short period of time, it does not necessarily mean that you will not receive competent services and/or attention. Often, an attorney just starting out has the time and zeal to give you the very best of his/her efforts. In specialized areas of law, it is generally advisable to hire an attorney or law firm with extensive experience. Do not assume, however, that a general practitioner does not have experience in specific areas of law; they are often able to look at the big picture.

Never hesitate to ask an attorney about their qualifications and experience. An attorney has the highest ethical and professional duty to his/her client. Attorneys are answerable to their state’s bar association, as well as to their clients for their conduct.

Talk about fees openly when you first interview your attorney. An open and frank discussion about fees, costs and services will avoid later misunderstandings. You have the right to insist on periodic updates and progress reports from your lawyer. Your phone calls, letters and communications with your lawyer should not be ignored.


No case is perfect, and no lawyer can guarantee results.

Never withhold information from your attorney, even if you think that it will hurt your case or make your attorney think less of you. Greater damage is done by what your attorney does not know than by the information itself. Remember, all information you give your attorney is completely confidential.

Learn as much as you can about the law from your attorney and other resources so that you can be a contributing partner in your case or legal matter.

Extend the same common courtesy to your lawyer that you demand from him/her; most attorneys are hard working and conscientious and spend as much time worrying and losing sleep over your case as you do.



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