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!

Four Steps to take before meeting an Immigration Lawyer

Before you begin your search for an immigration lawyer, here are Four Steps to take before your first meeting with an Immigration Lawyer. This checklist will help you enter your first consultation prepared and help guide you when searching for the right immigration lawyer.

Step 1: Assess your legal needs

Take the time to address what your current legal status is and do some research to find out what steps will need to be taken in the future to ensure that all of your legal immigration requirements will be met. Maybe you just recently decided to immigrate to the United States for work or family but don’t know where to start. Or perhaps you’ve just decided to get married to a foreign national. You might even already be a permanent resident in the United States but are thinking of becoming a U.S. citizen at some point in the future. You might even be an undocumented person who after careful consideration wants to transition to a legal status but needs guidance on how to ensure every step forward is done legally. No matter what your current immigration status is, it is critical that during these early stages you take the time to research and get legal consultation. Preparing as much as possible during the early stages of US immigration can prevent numerous legal problems further down the line. Another benefit of preparing ahead of time is that by learning the basic information and requirements regarding your immigration needs, you will have an important outline to work with when searching for the right immigration lawyer and provide you with a solid starting point.

A great place to start is the official United States government immigration website, US Citizenship and Immigration Services also known as USCIS, https://www.uscis.gov

Step 2: Know what to expect from an Immigration Lawyer

The right immigration lawyer should be able to give you an honest and thorough assessment of your case and be able to explain the options that are available to you based on not only the current law, but also changes that are in the legislative and judicial pipeline at any given time. The lawyer can then work with you to prepare your case and represent you in front of the administrative agency handling your application. The lawyer should be able to explain to the government agency why your case meets the requirements of the law and if problems arise, will use additional resources to help resolve the issue or prepare your case for an appeal. These are the minimum services any good lawyer should provide. If at any point you feel that your lawyer is not providing these basic provisions it’s time to reassess your lawyer and see where improvements can be made or get a new lawyer.

Step 3: Honesty is the Best Policy

This point can’t be stressed enough. Before you begin your search for an immigration lawyer it is critical that you accept that the best way for your lawyer to help you will mean that you will need to be completely honest in your dealings with that lawyer. The lawyer will need to have a clear, accurate picture of your situation. If you have worked without permission, neglected to file tax forms or been arrested the lawyer needs to know as it may affect your immigration options. Remember that your discussions with the lawyer and his/her staff are confidential. By withholding information not only are you doing yourself and your family a disservice but you are also preventing your lawyer from doing their job as best as possible in defending you. Honesty is always the absolute best policy.

Step 4: Gather All Your Documents

If there is one thing that is certain no matter what kind of immigration case you have it is that there will be alot of paperwork and documentation required. In almost every case, your lawyer will need to see just about everything in anyway, shape or form to your case. Gather all of your immigration documents, which include any documents relating to your education, financial statements and account information, tax information, rental and lease agreements, mortgage and home ownership documentation, accomplishments, marriages, divorces, birth of children, arrests or convictions, etc. Before you head out to your first consultation with a potential lawyer, be prepared and bring everything.