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How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Lawyer?

Less Than Not Hiring One

Many people facing legal challenges worry that hiring a lawyer will pile on immense expenses when they already have other worries and financial obligations.

Different attorneys, however, design their pricing structures in different ways, and the fees a lawyer charges may depend on your specific needs.

Hourly Fees

Some personal injury attorneys charge by the hour, based on the amount of time it takes them to perform a specific task. You might, for example, hire an attorney to help you ensure that your business operations satisfy state and local regulations. You might hire an attorney to review a contract on an hourly basis since you need him to only perform this one-time task.

Other times, you might choose to hire an attorney by the hour because the attorney does not know how much a specific task will cost or how many hours that task will take. For example, in complex divorce cases, attorneys often work for an hourly rate.

Criminal defense attorneys often work for an hourly rate. Predicting the course of a criminal defense case—including whether it will be appealed or extended for other reasons—ahead of time can be near impossible, and criminal defense attorneys can’t often determine how much time they’ll need to spend working on the case. Therefore, they will charge their clients on an hourly basis.

An attorney should break down tasks completed for your case and provide you with documentation showing how much time he or she spent on those tasks. Tasks that take only a portion of an hour may get broken down into specific segments. Many lawyers have minimum times: some, for example, will bill in a minimum of fifteen or thirty-minute increments.

On average, attorneys who charge on an hourly basis charge between $100 and $300 per hour. Attorneys involved in much higher-level, particularly complex or specialized work may charge as much as $1,000 per hour.

An attorney who bills at an hourly rate will typically charge the same fees regardless of who in the office performs specific services. For example, one of the named partners in the law firm may handle your case and even go to court for you, if necessary to resolve the claim. However, legal assistants and unnamed lawyers who work for the firm may perform many services. When hiring an attorney, it’s worth your time to be sure you know who you can expect to perform the services you require.

What Gets Included in an Attorney’s Hourly Rate?

Before you sign a contract with an attorney who bills on an hourly basis, make sure you understand what constitutes legal services and what the attorney will count as services performed on your case. Any direct services performed by the attorney will count toward those hourly fees, such as reviewing a contract, investigating a criminal claim, or representing you in court. The other services an attorney includes, however, may vary.

While you can expect an attorney to include a fee for a long consultation or meeting with you or an interview with a witness in your case, some attorneys will count every email or every response to a question as a billable segment. You do not want to find yourself paying for fifteen minutes of an attorney’s time for a two-word response to a text message. Make sure you carefully evaluate what services your attorney will count as part of that hourly rate.

Task-Based Fees

In some cases, when you want to hire an attorney for a singular job, you will pay a task-based fee, rather than an hourly rate. Suppose, for example, that you need to hire an attorney to draw up a specific contract or that you want to consult with an attorney on a specific element of business law. You might need an attorney to draw up the divorce paperwork between you and your spouse for a relatively amicable divorce, especially one that does not involve children or a demand for spousal support.

Such tasks usually take a predictable amount of time, so the attorney might have set fees for those services that will determine how much you will need to pay. You will pay the same fee for your attorney’s services even if it takes a little longer than anticipated to handle a specific task.

Traffic attorneys may also have task-based fees: for example, they may charge a flat rate to help you fight a ticket or to help you prove that you did not drink and drive.

If your case ends up involving much more than anticipated, you may end up paying your attorney more than those initial task-based fees. For instance, a no-contest divorce might take a turn and end up hotly contested when one spouse decides that they do not want to give up the house or that they want the other party to take on a larger share of a credit card debt. What started as a simple traffic ticket could develop into a drinking and driving charge. Your business issue might turn out much more complicated than you initially thought, especially if you have an unexpected violation or you end up getting sued by a customer or associate.

If you work with an attorney on a task-based basis, make sure you understand what that task encompasses and how much you can expect to pay. You may need to keep track of your contract and make sure you know how much any additions to your contract will cost.

Contingency Fees

Personal injury attorneys, in particular, often operate on a contingency fee basis. Instead of setting out the specific compensation they will receive, personal injury attorneys typically take a percentage of the funds they recover for their clients.

Personal injury claims often involve some of the most financially vulnerable members of the population. Often, injured individuals have medical bills adding up quickly. Worse, they may not have the ability to work to pay for their medical expenses and other bills while recovering. Paying an hourly rate for an attorney may seem impossible. Paying on a task-based basis may feel even more difficult. Even if payment comes due at the end of the case, victims may worry that if they lose, they will not have the funds to pay for their legal fees.

Contingency fee arrangements help victims of severe accidents to afford the legal assistance they need.

Because they typically work on a contingency fee basis, personal injury attorneys will choose clients whose claims they feel they can win. They set their fees as a percentage of whatever recovery they can obtain on behalf of the victim. Instead of having to pay their fees upfront, victims pay their legal fees out of whatever settlement payment or court award they receive at the end of the case.

What Happens if the Attorney Does Not Win?

Most of the time, if an attorney accepts a claim on a contingency fee basis, they do so because they know you have the evidence you need to win the claim and the right to significant compensation. However, an attorney who accepts your case on a contingency fee basis will not receive anything should he or she fail to recover compensation for you.

What if My Personal Injury Claim Turns out More Complicated Than Initially Thought?

Any personal injury claim can contain unexpectedly complex elements. Your attorney goes into the claim knowing that it will require a full investigation of every element that contributed to your accident and your injuries.

If, for example, you suffered injuries in a slip and fall accident, your attorney knows they will need to check out the scene of the accident and research the business to discover whether it has a history of ignoring safety regulations or of causing accidents. In a straightforward scenario, the attorney uncovers multiple accidents that took place in that spot due to the negligence of the business that he or she could use as evidence that the business did not take adequate care of its customers and that the business violated its duty of care to visitors to the premises.

On the other hand, an investigation might turn up the fact that you slipped and fell down a flight of stairs because the contractor who had repaired those stairs failed to properly secure a handrail or installed slippery flooring instead of the non-slip surface ordered by the business. Further investigation could turn up that the contractor has a known history of taking shortcuts when installing safety equipment. Suddenly, your attorney may need to do much more investigation into the conditions that led to your accident and who you need to pursue for compensation.

Likewise, your injuries may unexpectedly increase the complexity of the claim. Some conditions and injuries can seem to improve steadily in the beginning, but suddenly, your recovery may stall or you may experience unpredictable complications. For example, if you have a traumatic brain injury, your initial progress may seem very promising. Your memory improves. You have fewer mood swings or events in which you lash out unexpectedly at your loved ones. Your doctors predict that you will quickly regain most of your normal functions. Then, an unexpected complication occurs. Instead of progressing, your condition worsens.

When under stress, your mind no longer functions as well as it once did or you uncover limitations you did not know you had until you found yourself in a specific set of circumstances. Suddenly, you need to request additional compensation for your injuries. The insurance company may have prepared to negotiate at a specific point, but ended up owing you considerably more than originally anticipated, especially as you discover the full extent of those limitations and how they will impact your ability to go back to work after your accident. In these circumstances, the insurance company may try to fight harder to limit the compensation you can receive.

Unexpected circumstances may require your attorney to work harder to secure the compensation you deserve. However, the terms of your contract remain the same. Unless you need legal expertise that falls outside the initial terms and scope of that contract, your personal injury attorney will not increase the fees associated with your claim. In some cases, the unpredictability can work in your attorney’s favor, such as if you identify multiple parties who share liability for your injuries or discover that you actually deserve more compensation than you initially anticipated, since the attorney will receive a percentage of whatever damages you recover, rather than a set legal fee.

What if I Recover More Than Initially Anticipated Because of the Insurance Company, Not Because of Anything My Attorney Did?

Most insurance companies will not offer more compensation than initially anticipated by their own volition. Most often, any increase in your compensation will come thanks to the work of your attorney, not because an insurance adjuster somehow discovered that you had the right to more compensation than originally calculated.

Regardless of why you end up receiving more money for your injuries, however, the personal injury attorney’s fee will come out of that amount. In some rare cases, your attorney may set a maximum amount the firm can receive in compensation; however, in most cases, the contingency fee will include a percentage that will apply to whatever amount the settlement or award ends up being.

The Cost of Failing to Hire an Attorney

Many people, when faced with the steep fees associated with hiring an attorney, will consider handling their case themselves. If you have criminal trouble, you might take the public defender provided by the state. If you need to file for divorce, you might try to reach a no-contest agreement with your spouse that will allow both of you to walk away from the marriage without experiencing losses for legal fees. If you are in an accident and need to bring a personal injury claim, you may try to handle your claim on your own, rather than relying on an attorney for those legal services.

Failing to hire an attorney because you think it will save you money, however, can actually translate into a net loss.

1. Failing to Hire an Attorney Can Leave You Facing Greater, or Unexpected, Consequences.

Whatever kind of legal services you need, it is your attorney’s ethical obligation to prioritize your best interests. If you need to file for divorce, an experienced divorce attorney is trained to give you the best chance of walking away from your marriage with the funds you deserve and the time you want and need with your children. If you need to file a lawsuit to recover from a car accident, a personal injury attorney’s experience equips them with knowledge of how to maximize your compensation. If you’ve been charged with a crime, a criminal defense attorney can balance the risks of your case to help minimize the consequences you expect to face because of your actions.

Failing to work with an attorney, on the other hand, can leave you facing much greater consequences than you originally realized.

Suppose, for example, that you and your spouse tried to move forward informally with a no-contest divorce. At the last minute, however, your spouse decides to hire an attorney. That attorney convinces them to fight for greater custody of the kids, even though you had worked out a parenting arrangement that worked for the two of you.

Having created no previous legal paperwork and with no attorney to represent you, you cannot show any proof of your former arrangement with your spouse, and you may find your expectations for your life after the divorce have been upended.

Trying to manage a personal injury claim on your own can be even more volatile. Suppose, for example, that you suffer serious injuries in a car accident. You assume that you will have no trouble getting the funds you need from the other driver’s insurance company because he clearly caused the accident. Then, the insurance company uncovers that you had not replaced the brakes on your car in some time.

Even though the other driver plowed into you, they claim you could not have stopped in time to miss him, even if you had adequate time to react. In this situation, the compensation you can recover may be significantly undercut. Worse, you may end up facing penalties to your license and insurance because you drove an unsafe vehicle. Thus, having an attorney in personal injury cases can not only mean a greater amount of compensation, but also avoidance of penalties and fees.

2. Without an Attorney, You May End up Leaving Money on the Table.

An attorney knows how much money you deserve. A divorce attorney, for example, knows what documents and other evidence to gather to determine how much child support or alimony you should expect from your spouse and what assets you should expect to take away from your marriage. A divorce attorney can also advise you about how to address marital debt, including how to make arrangements to take your name off of debt that your spouse needs to pay off.

In the personal injury context, attorneys generally know how much your kind of case is worth, or can readily identify the evidence needed to assign a value and negotiate with a defendant or their insurer. In some cases of individuals who represent themselves, insurance companies will try to take advantage of a victim’s lack of knowledge.

They may make low settlement offers that greatly underestimate the amount of compensation a victim needs to address their injuries. Indeed, many victims who start out representing themselves note a mysterious increase in an insurance company’s settlement offer as soon as they bring an attorney on board. Even after they pay their attorneys the contingency fees agreed to, these individuals end up walking away with substantially more compensation than they could have recovered on their own.

3. Not Having an Attorney Can Cause Undue Stress.

People who need attorneys often aren’t in happy, stress-free periods of their lives. Generally, people bring in attorneys when they need a legal expert to help navigate difficult legal problems on top of stressful, emotional, painful circumstances.

Personal injury victims are a prime example. After an accident, personal injury victims find themselves wondering how they will manage on-going bills, how they will handle the long road to physical recovery, and what changes they need to make in their daily lives because of their injuries.

On top of these concerns, many victims are forced to cope with considerable physical and emotional pain, which can make it difficult to perform basic functions. If they can return to work, personal injury victims have that stress added to everything else. An employer may try to work with the victim, only to discover that they do not have the means to provide the victim with the support they need to get fully back to work. Victims may struggle to complete their usual job tasks, finding themselves exhausted at the end of the day.

On top of it all, the insurance company keeps calling, pressuring them to take a settlement offer. Without an attorney, all those calls go straight to the victim. Soon, the pressures of everything can push victims to accept unfair settlement offers. After all, they can get something in their hands and be done with the constant calls if they just take the offer the company has presented. Victims only have a limited amount of time to accept an offer before the insurance company will take it off the table.

But, by working with an experienced personal injury attorney, you can reduce a great deal of stress associated with those interactions. An attorney can handle many of those communications with the insurance company, and know what to say and not say to maximize your claim. Indeed, you may never have to find out about many of those calls from the insurance company, because the attorney will take care of them without needing to bother you.

The same holds for many other types of legal cases, including divorce and criminal cases. Often, an attorney will do a great deal of work behind the scenes, taking care of those interactions for you and leaving you to focus on getting the treatment you need and reestablishing your life.

4. If You Do Not Have an Attorney, It May Take Longer to Reach a Resolution.

While the legal system may have a reputation for working slowly, failing to hire an attorney can delay the resolution of a case even more.

Divorce cases are particularly notorious for dragging out when left between the parties. Both spouses know exactly what they want to walk away with from the marriage and it’s the opposite of what the other wants. They find themselves bickering over every detail, from who will take the silverware to who gets to keep the kids on holidays. Attorneys can help reach through the clutter and emotional distraction to help reach an effective agreement much faster.

An attorney can also help streamline the personal injury claim process. If they know a party is unrepresented, some insurance companies will use delay tactics to put off paying out the funds the injured party deserves for as long as possible or to pressure the victim into accepting a low settlement offer. With an attorney present, you can cut through the delay tactics and advance the claim more quickly. An attorney can also streamline the investigation into the accident and make sure that all legal paperwork gets filled out correctly, which can make it easier for the claim to progress and the victim to get the compensation they need.

5. An Attorney Can Make Sure You Do Not Forget Any Details as You Manage Your Legal Circumstances.

You may have limited experience or none at all in your legal matter. For many people, a pending divorce is the first legal issue they’ve encountered, or they’ve never had an injury so serious as the one that now threatens to ruin their finances unless they file a personal injury claim. This can make for a daunting and disorienting experience. An attorney can help fill in the details and ensure that you do not miss out on anything in your case.

For example, as a personal injury victim, you may assume that a fast settlement will offer you the most benefit. You have bills adding up faster than you can pay them and you have lost your source of income. As tempting as a fast settlement might seem under these circumstances, it might not be in your best interests.

Attorney John Gomez

Personal Injury Attorney, John Gomez

Suppose, for example, that you suffer unexpected complications in your recovery. Those complications could significantly increase your medical expenses and the limitations you will experience for the rest of your life. In turn, this discovery may also increase the funds you should expect from your personal injury claim. An attorney can evaluate your insurance policy and advise you as to how to handle your personal injury claim so that you maximize the amount you may recover.

A personal injury attorney may also identify more than one entity that bears liability for your injuries. Take a car accident, for example. You may assume that only the individual who was operating the vehicle that crashed into you bears liability for your injuries. But there could be a whole list of other liable parties.

Further investigation may reveal the driver was on-the-job, such that their employer may be held liable. A mechanic who recently worked on the vehicle might have put the brakes back on improperly, making it impossible for the liable driver to stop his car safely, such that the mechanic would bear liability. A vehicle with a mechanical defect might have been pushed through the factory without a recall, leaving the auto manufacturer liable for the accident.

An attorney can help identify all possible liable parties and help you pursue compensation from everyone who contributed to your accident.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Today

While hiring an attorney may sound expensive on the surface, failing to hire an attorney may actually leave you facing fines and penalties or prevent you from maximizing compensation. Look for experienced attorneys near you to help you with the legal issues you’re facing.


Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, Ca 92101
619-237-3490

Posted in: Personal Injury
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