Lawyer Payments and Attorney Fees

Lawyer Payments and Attorney Fees: An In-Depth Guide

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Whether it is for an auto accident, unlawful detainer, criminal case, personal injury lawsuit, or another legal matter, most people in California will often require the assistance of a lawyer at least a few times throughout their lives. As a result, it is important to have some basic knowledge about the process of working with a lawyer or attorney in California, and more specifically, how fees and payments work. In California, there are many different types of payment and fee arrangements for lawyer services. While there are certainly common types of fee arrangements for certain types of cases, each attorney or law firm in California will have their own option regarding payment. 

In this article, our attorneys at Forward Law Group in Los Angeles discuss the different types of attorney payment options that people who may need to retain the services of a lawyer may come across. Prior to signing on to receive the services of a lawyer, every person should carefully review the fee arrangements of the lawyer and make sure they fully understand what is expected of them regarding payment to the lawyer. As experienced lawyers with numerous practice areas, the Forward Law Group team has a tremendous amount of knowledge about attorney fees and fee arrangements. Beyond covering the different types of attorney fees and fee arrangements, our lawyers will also provide useful tips related to attorney fee arrangements and discuss questions related to lawyer fees that people should ask before agreeing to work with a specific lawyer. 

Common Types of Lawyer Fee Arrangements

As mentioned previously, there are many different types of fee arrangements that a lawyer can offer to a client who is interested in their services. Generally speaking, the biggest factor in determining a fee arrangement is the type of case that a client has (for example, criminal versus personal injury). This is because some types of cases are more complex than others, and as a result, require a considerable amount of time for a lawyer to navigate. Regardless, lawyers should always detail fee arrangements for a client. As stated by The State Bar of California, “By law, fee agreements with your lawyer must be in writing when the lawyer anticipates fees and costs for your case to total $1,000 or more.” 

Some of the most common types of lawyer fee arrangements in California include:

  • Contingency fee
  • Fixed fee (also sometimes called a standard fee)
  • Hourly fee
  • Retainer fee
  • True retainer fee

Below, we provide a closer look at each of these different types of payment arrangements. 

Contingency Fee

We begin with a type of fee arrangement that is particularly popular for personal injury cases. With a contingency fee arrangement, a lawyer only gets paid if they successfully represent their client. If the lawyer wins the case, they receive a percentage of the amount of the settlement. A lawyer should always be completely transparent about the contingency rate–the percentage of the settlement they will be entitled to if and when they successfully settle the case. Contingency fee arrangements can also be on a sliding scale basis. This means, at different stages of the case, the lawyer's percentage may change. For example, if the case settles pre-litigation, the lawyer will get a specific percentage of the settlement. However, if the case does not settle in pre-litigation and the lawyer needs to file a lawsuit in Court, the lawyer's percentage may at that point increase. This is because the lawyer is doing more work on the case, and in return, requires a bigger percentage of settlement. It is also important to note that in California, some cases are not allowed to be on a contingency basis. These include some family law cases and cases when a lawyer is representing a defendant in a criminal case.

Fixed or Standard Fee

Another type of common fee arrangement that someone may come across when working with a lawyer is a fixed or standard fee. In some cases, attorneys or lawyers may charge a flat fee for specific legal services. With a fixed fee, the amount that a client needs to pay a lawyer is fixed, regardless of the number of hours the lawyer spends on the matter. It is common for lawyers to ask for a portion or the entirety of the fee to be paid prior to the lawyer providing the actual services. Fixed fees are common for pre-defined legal services. 

Hourly Fee

Unlike fixed fees where the amount is pre-determined and stays the same regardless of the amount of work, with an hourly fee, the total amount paid to the lawyer is determined by the amount of hours the lawyer works on your case. With this fee arrangement, you and the lawyer will agree on an hourly rate. The lawyer will then work on your case, for example for 20 hours, and then bill you whatever hourly rate you previously agreed upon. For example, 20 hours at a rate of $350 per hour. The amount that an attorney charges per hour can vary significantly (from around $250 per hour to over $1,000.00 per hour), depending on the lawyer, the practice area, as well as numerous other factors. 

Retainer Fee

A retainer fee is a form of advanced payment to the lawyer that a client makes upfront to secure the lawyer’s services. The amount of the retainer is ultimately based on the scope of the work and the type of case. In most cases, this retainer fee is placed in an account controlled by the lawyer, and services that the lawyer performs are billed against that amount. Essentially, a retainer is advance money for a legal service and its anticipated cost. Any extra amount from the retainer that is remaining once the services have been performed should be returned to the client. Only in specific cases are retainers non-refundable. These types of non-refundable retainers are known as true retainers in California, and their purpose is to ensure a lawyer’s availability over a given period of time through the payment. 

Quick Tips Related to Lawyer Fee Arrangements

Below, our team at Forward Law Group provides some useful tips that may help when people are trying to familiarize themselves with lawyer fees and payments.

  • Every attorney will have unique prices. Attorneys with less experience might sometimes offer prices that are slightly lower than more experienced attorneys. Similarly, attorneys with a lot of experience in a specific practice area may charge more for those services. At Forward Law Group, our goal is to provide top-quality services at competitive prices to ensure client satisfaction. 
  • Beyond the experience that the lawyer has, prices and fees are also largely determined by how complex a client’s case is. Each and every case is unique and needs to be addressed in a specific way based on the circumstances surrounding the case. Attorney services for a case that is simple and straightforward will cost less than a case with numerous obstacles or complications that the attorney has to resolve. 
  • In most cases, court fees and other related expenses are separate from lawyer service fees. That is to say that lawyers do not generally include anticipated court fees and other related expenses as part of the amount they charge for their services. At Forward Law Group, we are always clear and transparent about the specific services that we will provide and the prices. Our attorneys always welcome and encourage our clients to ask questions about our fee arrangements. 

Questions People Should Always Ask Lawyers About Fees and Payments

At Forward Law Group, we always recommend that people who are interested in the services of a lawyer always ask plenty of questions specifically about lawyer fees and payment arrangements. By asking questions, a person can confirm that they have understood everything correctly and avoid misinterpreting anything. In addition, by asking questions and seeing how a prospective attorney responds to them, people can have a better idea of how the lawyer will treat them once they are officially the lawyer’s client. Here are some great questions to ask:

  • What are the terms for billing?
  • How will any potential court fees be paid?
  • What is the estimate of the total charges?
  • What is the percentage for the contingency fee?
  • Will I be provided all of this information in written form? (Note: Lawyers should always provide a written version of the service agreement.)
  • Are there any circumstances that would change the price of the services?

By asking these questions, you will be in a better position to make sure you understand everything related to the lawyer’s fees and payment arrangement. That said, if you have any other questions, always be sure to ask them! 

Forward Law Group–The Trusted Lawyers in California

From personal injury lawsuits to unlawful detainers, premises liability, and much more, Forward Law Group provides a wide range of practice areas to be able to serve clients in numerous ways. Above all, we seek to ensure that each client we work with is completely satisfied with not only the service they receive, but the outcome of their case. At Forward Law Group, we offer many different payment arrangements depending on the type of case that we would be assisting with. However, regardless of the type of case it is, you can always expect fair prices and top-quality work from our team. For personal injury cases, we also offer a free, no-strings-attached consultation that allows us to take a closer look at a client’s case without paying anything! For more information or to get any additional questions about lawyer fees answered, call our friendly and knowledgeable team today at (818) 471-8389.