There are three (3) kinds of attorney fees:
- THE HOURLY FEE: You pay your attorney by the hour. Ask the smallest fraction of an hour he/she will break it down.
- THE FLAT FEE: Covers the entire cost of handling the legal matter. Maybe the best deal for routine matters such as uncontested divorce and probate.
- THE CONTINGENT FEE: A percentage of any settlement or award. Usually used in personal injury cases. Ranges from 30% - 50% of total award. Client will also have to pay costs out of total.
If you are retaining an attorney to represent you in a contingency fee matter (where the fee is a percentage of the amount recovered), your attorney, in most cases, must give you a written contract setting forth such items as the contingency fee rate, any additional costs you might have to pay, and whether he or she carries professional liability insurance.
In most other cases involving more than $1,000 of total expenses to the client, a written agreement is also required, although there are exceptions, such as agreements for services rendered in an emergency. Corporate clients are also exempt.
Your attorney should be familiar with the requirements for a written fee agreement and should be able to provide you with an agreement that you can understand, as well as clearly answer any questions you may have.
There are a number of laws and regulations that apply to attorney fee agreements. Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts, or IOLTA, is a program mandated by some state laws, which vary by state. It requires lawyers and law firms to establish interest-bearing accounts for client deposits which are nominal in amount or expected to be short-term. You can get further information by contacting the State Bar.