You can Google every legal topic out there and find a plethora of information – some good, some bad. What’s interesting is that you rarely can find out what you’ll actually pay for legal services. And the truth is that it’s a complicated subject because the Florida Bar has rules for what lawyers can charge for services… and for good reason: to protect you, the consumer. However, lawyers often use those same protections to protect their best secret – their fees. So, the point of this blog is to give real answers (to the best we can) to the question “what’s it going to cost?”
Most personal injury cases are done on a contingency fee agreement that may or may not include costs. What does that mean? In Florida, we have to charge a reasonable fee that’s in line with our experience and the complexity of the case. Generally, that means a third of your recovery for pre-suit (before a lawsuit is filed) and 40% if a lawsuit is filed (and the other side defends that they did anything wrong… this one has a few details that your attorney should explain in detail and in writing). Any costs from the litigation will also be paid out of your recovery, and that means the costs for the experts who will need to testify for you, obtaining all of your medical records, the court reporter’s bills, and all the other costs as well. Now, that said, there are a lot of nuances to discuss with your attorney, but mainly just be aware that you need to know whether costs are included or in addition to the contingency fee and that the higher your recovery goes (e.g. in excess of a million dollars), the lower the attorney percentage of recovery can be. The long short, expect a contingency agreement where you pay nothing up front, but pay between one third to 40%, plus costs (which can be anywhere from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands) of any recovery the attorney obtains for you.
This area can be widely varied, but tends to be a retainer that is billed against for attorney’s hourly rate fees (generally $250-$500 per hour… depends on several facts like the attorney’s experience, knowledge, case load and area in which they practice), and, of course, any costs, like filing fees. The retainer can vary, but you will usually be looking at $1,500 – $5,000 upfront. Sometimes you will see “non-refundable” retainers – that just means that the initial retainer is deemed earned immediately. If the attorney doesn’t do the work or doesn’t bill anything significant against it, they still may have to return it to you. The other form of a retainer is an advance against fees where they will just apply their invoices against the retainer and you will likely have to keep a certain amount in the attorney’s trust account. Non-refundable v. refundable trust account retainers have pros and cons. Again, you need to discuss this with your attorney and find out what you will have to pay for a retainer upfront, what that will likely cover, and if there will be anything extra owed, for instance if your case goes to trial.
A will or an estate package generally consists of a few documents meant to protect your wishes and your loved ones upon your incapacity or death. It is certainly not a happy subject, but a necessary one. The fees are usually a flat fee – usually $400 – $1,000 depending on the complexity. The more complex, the more components, so the more expensive, but that range gives a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Contract/Lease/Document Review or Drafting
It’s a good idea to have a contract reviewed by an attorney, but it is a big unknown what it will cost – and that goes doubly for drafting a contract. Generally, it is done on a flat fee, but it varies depending on complexity of the particular contract. So, use the attorney’s hourly wage as a basic rubric – $250 – $500 per hour. If it is a flat fee, the attorney will have to estimate their expected time so expect that you will be paying somewhere between $500 – $2,000 for a review and $750 – $3,000 for drafting. Those numbers are very elastic so discuss your goals and budget with an attorney before hiring one.
Lawsuits – Bringing them or Defending them
For the most part, if it isn’t a personal injury case, like an auto accident, or property damage, like following hurricane damage, you are looking at paying the lawyer by the hour. Generally, if you are looking for an attorney to defend you against a lawsuit, you are looking at paying that attorney by the hour. And, if that lawyer doesn’t know you, you will probably be paying a retainer of $3,000 – $5,000. The attorney will then bill against it at the hourly rate of $250 – $500 per hour. So, yes, it is expensive. Some cases, like defamation, may be done on a flat fee around $5,000, but that is the exception and not the norm. You may also find something like a non-refundable retainer around $1,500 – $2,500 that is billed against at the attorney’s hourly rate. Finally, there’s a chance you may find the ability to just get billed a flat fee per month at something like $300 – $500 per month. Generally, this will be involve only a few areas of law like mortgage foreclosure defense, but some attorneys use this fee structure for other cases. Litigation is complicated and expensive, but may be worth it – talk to your attorney and make sure you understand what you are looking at.
In this area, you will find many variations of fee structure, but the most common is a retainer against which the attorney will bill his or her hourly rate. That retainer usually varies with the industry or size of the business or, put differently, with the amount of work an attorney expects to come in from the business. Occasionally, you will see a smaller non-refundable retainer that gets billed against by the attorney. Now, the big businesses hire the biggest law firms and pay really big retainers. However, for most small businesses they likely don’t need that much legal consultation and they certainly can’t afford to spend tens of thousands on legal fees. For most, it is a good idea to have a lawyer that is familiar with them and can quickly handle any questions or needs, but it doesn’t have to be overly expensive. For retainers, you are likely looking at $3,500 – $7,500 and for non-refundable retainers, you are probably looking in the area of $2,500 – $5,000. And, a structure that is becoming more popular is a monthly flat fee set-up where the business pays a lump sum per month, whether services are used or not. The plus is that the fee is predictable, but, of course the downside is keeping track of the cost-benefit because you will be paying each month no matter what was done.
Conclusion – Find a Free Consultation
Here’s the point … most attorneys offer a free consultation and you should take advantage. Whether you meet with one or ten, meet with an attorney to know your options. Once you know the options, you can make the decision that fits best with your situation. Understand that law is a service and a business, but if you find the right attorney it will be worth the investment. Take the time to understand the costs and fees you will be paying… and, most importantly, what to expect in return.