How Lawyers Work and Get Paid
Almost all lawyers typically get paid on an hourly basis, and in major metropolitan areas that is usually at the average rate of $300 to $500 per hour. They collect upfront down payments, sometimes called Retainers or Advance Fees, from their clients, out of which they earn money for every minute of billable work they perform for the client. Billable work typically refers to work directly related to the client’s representation, such as reading documents, communicating with the client or related parties, researching facts or the law, thinking about and discussing the client’s case, writing documents, representing the client in court, arguing with opposing parties or lawyers, and so on.
For low-income clients, I am proud to offer substantially reduced hourly rates on a Sliding Scale basis (i.e., $200 to $400 per hour), and for clients on a fixed budget I offer Limited Scope Representation as a dynamic option to efficiently use client funds. I would be glad to discuss such options with you during an Initial Consultation. I charge for such substantive Consultations because you’ll actually be discussing the details of your case with me rather than with a law clerk, paralegal, or junior associate like at so many law firms that offer free consultations.
When you hire me after our Initial Consultation, you can be certain that I’m the lawyer who will actually be working on your case rather than farming your matter out to junior associates, as is the case at so many other law firms big and small. There they charge clients for all the junior lawyers, clerks, and paralegals working on the case, plus they charge the client for time spent by supervising attorneys looking over the underlings’ work. So while a reputable attorney is the main draw at such a firm, the bait-and-switch that happens with underlings mainly working on client cases is par for the course. Frankly, this simply serves to boost attorney bills while, in my opinion, providing less quality work for unwitting clients.
Sometimes I receive calls from prospective clients who ask me whether I get paid only if they win their case. That type of pay structure is called “Contingency Representation”, which is where a Personal Injury lawyer gets paid about a third of any monetary winnings from a client’s lawsuit (e.g, think “slip and fall”, malpractice, or car accident cases). I do not represent Personal Injury victims, and therefore I do not provide Contingency Representation: neither do almost all attorneys, since Personal Injury lawyers make up a tiny fraction of the legal profession. Yet most people don’t realize this fact since, the great majority of the time, the only interaction that a person has with a lawyer is when they pass that big cheesy billboard on the highway promising you legal representation that won’t cost you a cent unless you win. That lawyer is a Personal Injury lawyer, and they handle only a small niche of legal matters as noted above. Contingency Representation does not even logically apply in mostly all practice areas apart from Personal Injury lawsuits, since winning large sums of money with relative surety is often not the point. Instead, hourly fee arrangements are standard in Family Law, Business & Contracts Law, Education Law, Civil Litigation, and so on.
Often criminal defense attorneys offer Flat Fee payments for criminal matters. I generally advise against Flat Fee payment arrangements as some lawyers seem to minimize the amount of work that they perform for clients under such arrangements: a practice which I firmly believe is unethical, though I believe this is a minority opinion. From experience, I’ve seen how criminal defense attorneys charging Flat Fees for their work represent their clients, and I’m not a fan: it’s no wonder to me that almost all criminal defense cases end in plea bargains rather than full trials. This is not how I practice law, because I believe that clients, especially in criminal defense matters where liberty and reputation are at stake, deserve the most aggressive, intense, and ethical level of representation. That may be more expensive, but clients deserve the best.
For discerning clients, I stand prepared to provide outstanding legal representation, dedicated personal service, customized fee arrangements, and aggressive work product at all stages of litigation and transaction work. When you call, I’m there.