How Much Does a Lawyer Cost: Everything You Need to Know (2022)

The cost of a lawyer can vary depending on fee schedules, flat-rate vs. hourly, retainer vs. contingency, and an estimate of the total cost based on the case.8 min read

1. How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?
2. Why is the Cost of a Lawyer Important?
3. Reasons to Consider Not Using a Lawyer Based on Cost
4. Reasons to Consider Using a Lawyer Based on Cost
5. What Could Happen When You Use a Lawyer?
6. What Could Happen When You Don't Use a Lawyer?
7. Frequently Asked Questions
8. Steps to File

Updated June 23, 2020:

How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

When clients ask, "how much does a lawyer cost," the answer can vary from $50 to $1000 or more per hour. But if you're facing a legal issue, working with a lawyer is very helpful and can affect the outcome of the case. Before hiring a lawyer, you should talk to him or her about fee schedules, flat-rate vs. hourly billing, retainer vs. contingency fees, and a ballpark estimate of the total cost based on the case.

The reality is that lawyers' services are not cheap, no matter what type of legal case you are facing. Even simple cases can cost several thousand dollars, and fees for more complex cases can quickly rival the price of a small luxury car. As you consider how much a lawyer will cost, think about how much you have to spend and what the outcome is worth to you.

For example, if you're thinking about taking legal action against a local business that did not repair your refrigerator properly, do you have enough money available to hire a lawyer, present evidence, and get the court to rule in your favor? Even if you do have enough money, is the overall cost of replacing the refrigerator or having someone else repair it worth the trade-off?

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If you decide to move forward with legal action, or you need assistance with a legal matter, ask all potential lawyers that you meet with about their billing practices and fees. If the lawyer is not willing to discuss the costs with you, it's a sign of poor client service.

Most lawyers bill under one (or several) of the following arrangements:

  • Hourly rate: this is the most common way for a lawyer to bill. This process requires careful documentation of all time spent working on documents, reviewing case files, presenting information in court, and any other tasks related to the client's case. The client and lawyer will agree on the hourly rate before getting started with the case.
    • A lawyer's hourly rate varies drastically based on experience, location, operating expenses, and even education.
    • Attorneys practicing in rural areas or small towns might charge $100-$200 per hour.
    • A lawyer in a big city could charge $200-$400 per hour.
    • Specialized lawyers with a lot of expertise in a specific area of law, such as patent or intellectual property law, could charge $500-$1,000 per hour.
    • Larger and more prestigious law firms often have higher rates as well.
  • Retainer fee: many lawyers require a retainer fee up front, which is something like a down payment on the case. As the lawyer works on your case, he or she will deduct the costs from the amount you paid and send you periodic invoices showing the deductions.
    • If you drop a case for which you have already paid a retainer fee, it is most likely non-refundable.
  • Flat fee: a lawyer may offer a flat fee for a specific, simple, and well-defined legal case. Examples of cases eligible for flat fee billing include uncontested divorces, bankruptcy filings, immigration,trademarks,patents, and wills.
    • Before agreeing to a flat fee, make sure you understand what is covered in the agreement. It may not include filing fees or other fees associated with the legal process, so you'll need to plan accordingly.
  • Contingency fee: a lawyer may offer this type of billing in a debt collection case, an automobile accident, a medical malpractice, or another type of personal injury case. With a contingency fee, the client doesn't pay until the case is resolved. Upon resolution, the contingency fee is a percentage of the settlement or money awarded on behalf of the attorney's client.
    • Courts may limit contingency fee percentages. The average ranges from 25 to 40 percent. Contingency fees may be negotiable.
  • Referral fees: if a lawyer doesn't have a lot of experience with cases like yours, he or she may refer to you another lawyer who does. In this case, the referring lawyer may receive a portion of the total fee. You have the right to know if a referral fee will be included in your total cost.

Criminal cases typically fall under the flat fee or hourly billing structure. Because a criminal case is often more intricate, pricing with contingency fees doesn't really make sense. Serious criminal cases often require multiple legal proceedings, such as the preliminary hearing, jury selection, trial, writs and appeals, and sentencing, so the process can take months. Many criminal lawyers who charge by the hour will require a retainer fee.

In addition to the hourly fees or flat-rate fee charged by a lawyer in a criminal case, the client often has to pay additional expenses, such as:

  • Expert witness fees
  • Investigator hourly fees
  • Paralegal hourly fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Photocopying fees
  • Court and criminal fees (if found guilty)
    • Criminal fees might include costs for time spent in jail, criminal records checks, etc.

A criminal lawyer's hourly rate will depend on multiple factors, which may include:

  • The reputation of the lawyer and/or firm
  • The complexity of your criminal charges
  • The lawyer's level of experience
  • The location (hourly rates are typically higher in large cities)
    • The location is also impacted by overhead costs to operate a firm in that state/city

The total cost of a lawyer depends on several factors, the most important of which is the billing method. If you are found not guilty, or acquitted, of a charge, you may still require additional legal services to have the arrest and/or charges removed from your record.

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Most criminal lawyers charge similar fees to stay competitive, but certain cases are more complex and urgent, so you'll need to make a decision right away. Once you hire a lawyer, it will be much more difficult to adjust the billing method or fees.

Before you choose a lawyer who charges by the hour, make sure to ask if he or she divides the hour into 15-minute or 6-minute increments. It becomes important when you make phone calls or get brief updates, since a five-minute phone call could cost $50 when charged by a $200/hour lawyer who breaks the time into 15-minute increments. A lawyer who charges the same hourly rate but offers 6-minute increments would charge $20 (1/10 of the hourly rate of $200) for that same call.

Why is the Cost of a Lawyer Important?

Understanding the cost of a lawyer before you enter into an agreement can help prevent unpleasant surprises or costs that you cannot afford. Some people might start working with an attorney, only to find that the fees are mounting dramatically. You don't want to put undue financial strain on yourself or your family, nor do you want to have to file bankruptcy or take other legal measures to get out of debt.

Expenses and court costs add up quickly, so talk to any potential lawyer in detail about expected fees and costs. Get a written estimate and make sure it includes things like delivery charges, court costs, time spent on the case by paralegals and/or legal secretaries, and filing fees. If these aren't included on the written estimate, make sure to ask. You might end up with a separate bill, unless your attorney absorbs the extra fees into the total bill.

It's also important to make sure that the cost of the lawyer is worth the overall cost of the case and what you could recoup. For example, if you're trying to file bankruptcy for a debt of $15,000, you probably don't want to hire a lawyer whose estimate comes in at $10,000.

Reasons to Consider Not Using a Lawyer Based on Cost

Many people don't have enough money to hire a lawyer for legal help. The United States of America offers rights to its citizens, called Miranda Rights or the Miranda Warning. Under the Miranda Warning, a citizen has the right to an attorney. If he or she cannot afford one, an attorney will be provided. So, if you find that you aren't able to pay for the legal fees associated with your criminal case, you may qualify for this resource.

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Low-income clients may also qualify for free legal help in certain types of cases, including divorce and landlord-tenant disputes. Attorneys and law firms might dedicate a certain percentage of their time to pro bono (or free) work for clients who need help. Search online for lawyers in your area who might offer these services, or contact the state bar association.

Other resources include:

  • Union-provided legal representation
  • Support from civil rights or advocacy groups (such as those that help victims of crimes)
  • Insurance-provided legal representation

If you don't feel comfortable with a specific attorney, don't hire him or her just because the price seems right.

Reasons to Consider Using a Lawyer Based on Cost

The cost of the lawyer will certainly factor into your decision, but remember that cheaper does not equal better. A lawyer who charges more per hour may have more experience with cases similar to yours. Attorneys who are just starting their practices might charge less, but a lower fee often comes with less experience. But you should also avoid going into serious debt by hiring a lawyer you can't afford.

What Could Happen When You Use a Lawyer?

When you use a lawyer in any type of legal proceeding, you now have someone on your side who understands the complex legal system. Even something that seems simple, like filing for custody or going through a divorce, can quickly become complicated and overwhelming. Courts in different states require different documentation and forms to be filed, and most people just don't have a firm understanding of these requirements.

When you work with an experienced attorney, he or she will understand what is necessary and how to handle all requirements properly and on time. Your lawyer can also help break down complicated legal forms, terms, and discussions for you. In a 1999 study conducted by the Insurance Research Council, data showed that those who obtained legal representation received3.5 times more settlement moneyin personal injury cases than those who did not.

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What Could Happen When You Don't Use a Lawyer?

Without legal representation, you could miss a due date for forms or documents, causing delays in your case or even a ruling that is not in your favor. The most common problem that comes up among those who don't hire lawyers is complete confusion as to what they need to do to close out the case. You could end up in limbo, not sure what to do next or where to go for help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much will a lawyer cost for a divorce?

Some lawyers offer flat-rate pricing for simple, uncontested divorce proceedings. But when a divorce involves custody of minors, a lot of property to split, or other aspects that make it more complicated, the price may go up.

  • What is the average hourly rate for a lawyer?

The average hourly rate for a lawyer is between $250 and $520.

  • How can I find out the total estimated cost for a lawyer's services?

Before hiring a lawyer, request a written estimate for the total cost. But remember that even a written estimate is just a guess, and the fees can change depending on the outcome and duration of your case. One thing that should not change is the hourly rate. Some lawyers also accept payments toward the total cost.

  • How can I pay for legal fees?

Most lawyers accept standard methods of payment, such as credit cards, debit cards, checks, and cash. Your lawyer might allow you to set up a payment plan toward the total cost. Before you sign an agreement with a lawyer, find out how often he or she requires payment. Some require it monthly, while others require weekly payments toward a bill.

If payment to your attorney includes part of a settlement, make sure you understand how that will be paid after the case is closed.

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Steps to File

The first step in finding out how much a lawyer will cost is scheduling consultations. Some offer free consultations, while others will charge a small fee for the initial meeting. During this consultation, you should present all information relating to your case and ask for more information about billing and estimated total costs.

If you need help with how much a lawyer costs, you canpost your jobon UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.


What are reasonable legal costs? ›

Reasonable legal costs means attorneys' fees, costs, charges, and all other litigation expenses in connection with the defense of a "claim" or negotiation of cleanup standards and representation before environmental agencies in connection with "discovery", limited to rates we actually pay to counsel we retain in the ...

How much do the best lawyers cost? ›

Throughout the United States, typical attorney fees usually range from about $100 an hour to $400 an hour.

What are costs in the case? ›

'Costs in the case' means that the ultimately successful party will be able to recover the costs in relation to that order, on conclusion of the proceedings. It is often a phrase utilised in interim case management orders as the successful party/outcome of the litigation is not yet known.

What are proper costs? ›

Something may be a 'proper cost', in the sense that it would be appropriate in some circumstances to incur it, and yet not 'properly incurred', in the sense that the circumstances pertaining were not such as to make it appropriate to incur it.

What is an attorney vs lawyer? ›

However, when practising law, lawyers can only provide legal assistance, advice, and counselling to their clients while an attorney can represent clients in court and initiate defendant prosecutions in addition to providing legal counsel and consultation.

Are lawyers paid hourly or salary? ›

A lawyer sometimes bases the fee on a fixed dollar amount for each hour or part of an hour spent working on your legal matter. Hourly rates can vary, depending on the lawyer. Ask your lawyer about the hourly rate and ask for an estimate of how many hours will be spent on your behalf.

What country has the best lawyers? ›

Switzerland is at the top of our list of countries that reward their lawyers the best. With an average annual salary of $260,739. The lowest salary for a Swiss lawyer is $120,279 and the highest salary is $414,058 per year.

What is cost hearing? ›

A Costs and Case Management Conference (CCMC) is a hearing where both parties to a litigation attend before the judge and agree directions and the costs budget to trial.

Who gives an order as to costs in court? ›

The court can, for good reason, order the successful party to pay all or part of the other parties costs, e.g. misleading statements. The court can, in special circumstances, order one party to pay the costs of the opponent on an attorney and client scale, e.g. dishonesty, fraud, grave misconduct.

How are costs awarded in court? ›

What is a Cost Award? When a court action reaches its end, the judge will generally make a statement about costs, their amount, and which party has to pay them. Basically, a costs award is given to the party that won the lawsuit to help them recoup some of the money that they spent bringing their action.

How much is VAT on legal fees? ›

In the case of solicitors, of course, the VAT is charged – at the standard rate of 20% – on the legal services they provide to clients. An appreciable amount of time and effort is spent by any firm of solicitors, therefore, in preparing VAT returns are arranging payment of the tax due.

Do I pay VAT on legal fees? ›

VAT liability of solicitors' and barristers' fees

Most firms of solicitors are registered for VAT and so the costs of their services will be subject to VAT. Barristers may be registered for VAT, but some are not (because they are below the registration threshold).

What does properly incurred mean? ›

'Properly incurred' in this context means reasonably as well as honestly incurred. Where the costs of litigation are in issue, this will usually involve a consideration of whether the litigation as a whole, and the amount of costs incurred, were reasonable.

What are the different types of legal costs? ›

There are three main types of legal costs that a Court can order an unsuccessful party to pay, namely party and party costs, attorney and client costs, and attorney and own client costs. Party and party costs are legal costs that a Court orders the unsuccessful party to pay to the successful party in a case.

How much does it cost to sue someone in the UK? ›

The court fee is based on the amount you're claiming, plus any interest. To calculate 5% of the value of the claim, take the amount you're claiming and multiply it by 0.05. If necessary, round down the result to the nearest 1 pence. The fee will be calculated for you if you make your claim online.

Does losing party pay legal fees UK? ›

Each party has to pay their own costs and no-one else's, whether they win or lose. Very occasionally a court decides that the loser has behaved unreasonably and so orders them to pay the winner's costs.

How much does a High court appeal cost? ›

The court has an extremely simple fee charging structure based on two basic fees: £235 for permission to appeal and £465 to proceed to a full appeal. 24.

Who gives an order as to costs in court? ›

The court can, for good reason, order the successful party to pay all or part of the other parties costs, e.g. misleading statements. The court can, in special circumstances, order one party to pay the costs of the opponent on an attorney and client scale, e.g. dishonesty, fraud, grave misconduct.

When can you recover legal costs? ›

In order to recover legal costs, you will require an Order permitting you to proceed to detailed assessment. Automatic entitlements to costs also arise when a party discontinues their claim, or when a Part 36 Offer has been made and accepted, which provides the successful party an automatic right to costs.

How are costs awarded in court? ›

What is a Cost Award? When a court action reaches its end, the judge will generally make a statement about costs, their amount, and which party has to pay them. Basically, a costs award is given to the party that won the lawsuit to help them recoup some of the money that they spent bringing their action.

Do you get court fees back if you win? ›

If you win your case, you'll get the court fees back as well as the claim, and you can ask for certain expenses. If you win, you can't charge fees for any legal advice to the defendant.

What happens if you sue someone with no money UK? ›

If someone you are suing has no money or other assets in England and Wales which could be used to pay you, there is no way to recover your debt and will just be incurring additional costs in the attempt.

Do you need a lawyer for small claims court? ›

You do not need a lawyer to represent you at a Small Claims Court.

What is cost hearing? ›

A Costs and Case Management Conference (CCMC) is a hearing where both parties to a litigation attend before the judge and agree directions and the costs budget to trial.

Who pays court fees in Family court? ›

Generally speaking each party will be liable to pay their own legal costs incurred within court proceedings relating to arrangements for children, however there are circumstances where one party can be ordered to pay the costs of the other.

Do I have to pay my solicitor? ›

Solicitors charge for their time and services. If you're getting legal advice or representation from a solicitor, you'll probably need to pay for these services. Costs for legal services will depend on which solicitor you choose.

Do you pay costs if you lose in small claims court? ›

What Happens if You Lose in Small Claims Court? The losing party can be liable to pay the winning party's costs, such as their Court fees, loss of wages, and travel costs, on top of their own costs.

What happens if permission to appeal is refused? ›

The prospective appellant must show that the proposed appeal stands a realistic prospect of success. If permission to appeal is refused at that stage, that is the end of the matter. One cannot take it further to the Supreme Court because you will have been refused twice - in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

How much would it cost to take a case to the Supreme Court? ›

“If you're just paying hourly, and you are paying at D.C. rates, it would be somewhere from $100,000 to $250,000,” says attorney James Bopp, who has argued many big-deal cases in front of the justices. And that's just to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.


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