How Do Legal Fees Work?

Lawyer’s fees can vary greatly and although it is tempting to always find the cheapest lawyer possible, cost should never be the only consideration given to choosing a lawyer. If you have trouble affording a good lawyer or you are part of a low-income community, there are programs out there to help. Understanding how legal fees work and how lawyer’s structure their pay can help you to make a better decision in choosing the right lawyer for your situation. Although lawyers’ fees vary greatly, there are two primary methods of pricing: an hourly rate or a flat fee. Occasionally, the lawyer may propose a mixed pricing structure. When you meet a potential lawyer for the first time consultation or when making initial phone calls to potential lawyers, it is very important that you understand how you will be charged for work on your case.

Difference Between Hourly Fees and Flat Fees?

Many lawyers charge by the hour or have hourly fees based on the time they and their staff spend working on your case. If your case is simple and does not require much time, this option might be for you. However, if your case is labor intensive, the hourly fees will add up quickly. You will pay not just for the time the lawyer spends working on the case, but also for the time each paralegal and legal assistant works the case as well. This also includes time when they are discussing your case amongst themselves and all the time you spend on the phone with them. Some lawyers charge a different rate for their time as opposed to the time of their support staff. Very often however, lawyers will use a Flat Fee for “routine” cases such as an H-1B or Labor Certification application. In this pricing model, you and the lawyer agree on the price ahead of time, regardless of how long the case may take to work. In this model, it is to the advantage of the lawyer to work your case as efficiently as possible. If unexpected complications arise that change the nature of your case, be aware that it may be necessary to re-negotiate the contract.

Can Hourly Fees and Flat Fees be combined?

Yes! With some complicated cases, a lawyer may not be able to assess a flat fee up front as it may not be certain how much work is involved in the case. The lawyer may suggest that the case be handled on an hourly basis. Since some cases can result in significant number of billable hours, you may wish to explore the possibility of converting the case to a flat fee after the legal fees have reached a certain figure. This would serve to limit the expense from your end and deter the firm from running up your fees. However, if your case involves considerable amount of court time and preparation, this may not be an option.

Other Costs to Keep in Mind!

In addition to the legal fees, it is important to understand what other costs you may be expected to pay. Ask about these costs up front as they may add significantly to the cost of your case. Be sure to ask about the cost of Photocopies, Filing Fees or other services such as document translation costs DNA testing or the cost of evaluating your credentials. Be sure to also ask when these must be paid such as government filing fees, etc.

What is a Retainer?

After the initial consultation the lawyer should send you a retainer agreement to sign. This agreement formalizes your relationship with the lawyer and establishes the scope of the case. It will include what the case is (i.e. an H-1B filing, a J-1 waiver, a case for permanent residency), the legal fees, the costs you will pay and when you are expected to pay them. Read this document carefully and understand the terms of the representation agreement. This is a legally binding agreement so make sure you are absolutely clear on the stipulations of your retainer agreement!