How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Lawyer?

You may have heard of lawyers charging upwards of $1,000 per hour for their services.

Is anybody really worth that much?

In truth, lawyer’s fees aren’t always an upfront cost – and sometimes, you aren’t the person who pays out of pocket at all.

Keep reading for an easy overview of the costs involved when you hire a lawyer.

How Expensive Is It To Hire a Lawyer?

Regardless of contingency fees (below) of the type of case you require an attorney for, the amount you pay to hire a lawyer varies and it always pays to shop around.

Lawyers in cities charge higher rates than those in small suburbs, and a lawyer’s specialization and level of expertise play a decisive role. You can expect to pay a substantially higher sum for an attorney with decades of experience compared with a young lawyer fresh out of law school.

A good rule of thumb to figure out how much a lawyer will cost is the USAO Matrix. This index determines the estimated hourly rate for a lawyer based on the number of years of experience.

However, in many cases, you won’t be paying your attorney an hourly fee.

Hiring a Lawyer for Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases are common, and the standard procedure for a personal injury law office in these events is to work on contingency.

This means that the law firm you hire will receive a portion of the settlement or judgment you receive as compensation for your injury. While fees vary, the generally accepted amount is somewhere between 20% and 40% of your compensation.

This provides two benefits:

  • Your attorney is incentivized to put your interests first
  • You don’t pay if your case is unsuccessful

Some contingency agreements are on a scale, where an attorney receives a higher percentage for larger total compensation packages.

Also Read:

When Should You Hire a Lawyer for Your Injury Case?

Hiring a Lawyer in Civil Cases

Civil cases without personal injuries, such as those cases pertaining to real estate and family law, are usually paid by the hour (see the index USAO index linked above).

In addition to the hourly rate, it’s common to pay a retainer, which is a one-time upfront payment made to a law firm when they agree to take your case. The acceptance of a retainer is also an agreement that your chosen attorney won’t take on any case that may present a conflict of interest.

Hiring a Lawyer in Criminal Cases

Should you need legal help for a criminal case or trial, you can expect to pay a substantial retainer upfront. Thereafter, your lawyer will charge their hourly rate.

Initial retainers in criminal cases tend to be far greater than in civil cases. This is because felony trials are complicated affairs that require a lot of time to prepare – serious felonies last for multiple hearings and can include expert witnesses, private investigators, and jury selection.

What Is a Retainer?

Retainers are upfront fees paid at the start of your relationship with your lawyer – but they can be complicated and you should pay attention to the fine print before agreeing to pay one.

Some retainers include a flat number of hours, or a specification of certain services, that will be covered. In this case, you won’t be billed for the number of hours covered by the retainer.

Retainers also serve as insurance on the part of the lawyer, guaranteeing that their clients have the means to pay their fees. And in rare cases, the retainer may be sufficient to cover all attorney fees.

Also Read: What Are the Common Auto Accident Injuries?

What Are Contingency Fees?

Contingency fees are common in all cases involving compensation paid to a plaintiff. The vast majority of these are personal injury cases involving medical malpractice, auto accidents, negligence, libel, slander, and in some cases, sexual harassment or discrimination.

While criminal cases are about proving guilt or innocence and many civil cases are about two sides of an argument, personal injury has a clear victim and perpetrator who might owe them compensation.

It’s for this reason that many personal injury attorneys work on contingency. Successful cases result in compensation, and a lawyer can take their fee from that.

The bonus for plaintiffs is that there’s often no retainer to pay – and no legal fees to settle after the case is over.

Factors To Consider Besides Price

Price is probably one of the first things you think about when looking to hire a lawyer. But other factors aren’t secondary – it’s just as important that you have a good relationship with your attorney.


Legalese, trials, and court cases are all nerve-wracking affairs. There are a lot of granular legal terms to simplify and being unsure about what’s really going on puts you in an uncomfortable position.

Choosing a law firm that does its best to communicate honestly, openly, and in simple language with its clients helps to put your concerns to bed.

Must Read: 7 Tips to Find the Best Car Accident Attorney

Case History and Referrals

A tried and true way of evaluating an attorney is to ask for referrals from friends and family or look at their history of successful cases. If a loved one recommends a particular lawyer, then you know you’re getting an honest opinion – while a history of success in the courtroom tells you that you have a good chance of winning your case.

Trust Your Gut

If you can’t make up your mind while shopping around for the best lawyer for your circumstances, then go with your gut. Whether you’re a plaintiff in a personal injury case or a defendant in a criminal trial, having an attorney you “click” with by your side alleviates the worst of your concerns and lets you focus on what’s important.

Find the Right Attorney

It’s not easy to know how to hire a lawyer who will suit your needs. But having an idea of how much it will cost you is a great start in determining whether you should pursue a case or settle out of court.

If you found our article insightful, we have more that might help you out. Click here to browse all articles in our legal category.

Cheryl Henson

Cheryl Henson is a passionate blogger and digital marketing professional who loves writing, reading, and sharing blogs on various topics.

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