You may discuss the matter of fees with your lawyer at any time. There are four principal methods for compensating a lawyer, though others may be agreed upon as well. They are: (1) retainer; (2) on a contingent fee basis; (3) by specific job; (4) hourly rate. Some attorneys may use a combination of fee arrangements. In other cases, lawyer fees may be set and determined by the court. Below we have provided a brief explanation of each of these fee structures:
Individuals or business may employ a lawyer on a retainer basis, i.e., a "down payment" or advance of fees for specified legal services. In return for the retainer the attorney will work for you on any matter for which you may need his or her services. Additional costs may be added to the final bill for services involving extra time and effort on the part of your lawyer. Always request that your lawyer give you a receipt for the advance on the fee.
Another fee arrangement used in certain known, criminal types of cases, especially in accident and negligence cases, is called a contingent fee. Such a fee is contingent upon the lawyer obtaining monetary recovery for you. If an award is made, the fee will be a percentage of the recovery. Court costs and out-of-pocket expenses are normally the client's responsibility. Costs and expenses of litigation may be taken from the amount awarded or settled upon.
One of the most common methods for charging fees is for the specific job (divorce, wills, purchase or sale of property, title examination, etc.). There are some types of cases in which your attorney can tell in advance approximately what the charges will be for services rendered. In many other instances, she or he can not due to the complexity of your situation.
Sometimes the lawyer will base his or her charges on a fixed dollar amount for each hour spent on your behalf. This is called hourly rate. Don't hesitate to ask your lawyer his or her rate and for an estimate of how many hours will be spent on your case.