ContractsCounsel Logo

Attorney Fees: Definition & 6 Types To Learn

Clients Rate Lawyers on our Platform 4.9/5 Stars
based on 7,608 reviews
Home Blog Attorney Fees: Definition & 6 Types To Learn

Jump to Section

Need help with a legal contract?

Post Project Now

Post Your Project (It's Free)

Get Bids to Compare

 Hire Your Lawyer

What Are Attorney Fees?

Attorney fees are the amount of money billed to a client by a lawyer for performing legal services on the client's behalf. You may also see attorney fees referred to as attorney's fees or attorneys' fees. Attorney fees can be set in a few different ways, such as by an attorney-client compensation agreement, by statute, or by a court.

Types of Attorney Fees

Understanding the different types of attorney fees will help you find the right lawyer for your unique situation. The kind of fee arrangement available to you will depend on the type of legal issue you face. Several types of attorney fees and fee arrangements exist. Common examples include:

Consultation Fees

A lawyer may charge an upfront fee so you can meet with the lawyer and they can determine whether they will be able to assist you with your legal issue. Consultation fees are typically charged on a flat-rate basis. Many lawyers do not charge this initial consultation fee, but you should always check ahead of time to be certain.

Flat Fees

A lawyer may charge a flat fee for some kinds of legal matters. Attorneys who handle large volumes of a particular kind of case may opt for charging a flat fee as they can use standardized forms and practices for each case they take on. Generally speaking, lawyers use flat fees for relatively uncomplicated cases, including:

  • Mortgage foreclosures
  • Preparing wills
  • Tenant evictions
  • Uncontested divorces

Hourly Rates

Hourly attorney fees are the most common type of arrangement. A lawyer will charge a per hour rate, then track the time spent working on the case in fractions of an hour, for example in 10ths of an hour (or 6-minute increments).

Lawyers may charge different rates depending on the type of case. So, you may pay $100 per hour for contract preparation, but $200 per hour for litigation. Lawyers may also bill for some paralegal fees, though this is generally done at a lower rate than the attorney fees.

Contingency Fees

Common among medical malpractice and personal injury attorneys, contingency fees are based on a percentage of the amount you receive. This overall amount of money can come from a judgment in court, or it can be negotiated in a case's settlement. For example, if you are awarded $1 million in a case, your lawyer may get 40% of that as a contingency fee. The more complex or risky your case is, the higher the contingency fee a lawyer is likely to request.

If you agree to attorney fees using this arrangement, your lawyer does not get a fee if you lose your case. However, you often will still need to pay expenses even if you do lose the case.

Contingency fee percentages can vary, with a one-third fee (or 33 1/3%) a common arrangement. Some jurisdictions or attorneys adjust this rate depending on how a given case progresses. For instance, you may pay a lower rate if your case is settled prior to trial, but a higher rate if you make an appeal. Sometimes, courts also set a limit on the contingency fee an attorney can receive.

Contingency fees are not available for all cases. Lawyers often use contingency fees for their attorney fees only if the lawsuit has the potential to win a large sum of money. That's because an attorney might end up losing money in the transaction for a relatively small case due to the amount of money and time they need to invest in the case. In general, contingency fees are not used in business law settings. Further, lawyers may not be permitted to make contingency fee arrangements for some types of cases, such as criminal defense or child custody cases.

Get Free Bids to Compare

Leverage our network of lawyers, request free bids, and find the right lawyer for the job.

Get Bids Now

Retainer Fees

Retainer fees are essentially a deposit that you pay toward the total cost of legal services, not a separate additional fee. These fees make sure that the lawyer will get something in the end. Lawyers can also use retainer fees in exchange for being on call to handle legal issues whenever they come up.

The retainer fee is a set amount usually based on an hourly rate multiplied by a number of hours. The retainer you pay is generally put into a trust account. Then, the cost of the services gets taken out of that account as they accrue. Retainer fees are often non-refundable, though a court can deem this stipulation unreasonable and invalidate it.

Here is an article about retainer fees.

Statutory Fees

A statute or regulation may predetermine the amount a lawyer can charge for a given service in some jurisdictions. Common examples include bankruptcy and probate cases.

Written Attorney Fee Agreements

Attorney fees typically must be set forth in a written agreement, no matter the type of fee arrangement. These written agreements may be called representation agreements or retainer agreements. Regardless of the name, a written attorney fee agreement can help set the terms of the attorney-client relationship, providing a record of what you agree to pay in case a later dispute arises over legal bills.

Written agreements should cover a few key details, including:

  • Retainer fee: If you will pay a retainer fee in advance, your written contract should clearly state the amount of the retainer as well as when you'll need to replenish the retainer.
  • Hourly fee: If your lawyer charges an hourly fee, the written agreement should state:
    • How often the attorney will bill you
    • Details those bills will include
    • How long you'll have to pay each bill
    • Hourly rates for anyone who might work on your case
    • Any discounts for early payments and/or penalties for late payments
    • How you can dispute a charge
  • Contingency fee: If your lawyer charges using a contingency fee, the agreement should cover the contingency percentage and collection process.
  • Client and attorney responsibilities: The written agreement should detail the responsibilities of both parties, for example being forthright and honest.
  • Agreement termination: The agreement should explain how to end the attorney-client relationship.
  • Additional representation: The written agreement should explain whether the attorney will continue to represent you in case of an appeal or any other post-trial proceedings, like judgment collection. Here is an article about judgments.
  • Responsible attorney: If you are working with a larger office, the agreement should state which lawyer will be responsible for your case.
  • Costs of suit: The written agreement should explain how litigation costs will get paid.

Additional Fees and Costs

You should always make sure you understand the expectations for litigation costs and other additional costs not typically included in set attorney fees. Find out ahead of time how you will be required to pay for things such as:

  • Copying costs
  • Court fees
  • Expert fees
  • Deposition fees
  • Fees charged by private investigators
  • Messenger fees
  • Postage
  • Travel expenses

If you pay using a contingency fee agreement, your lawyer may agree to pay these kinds of costs up front and then get reimbursed after you win your case. However, you will still need to pay back your lawyer for these costs should you lose. Other lawyers will just require you to pay these kinds of costs and fees as your case progresses.

No matter the type of legal issue you wish to pursue, you will want to work with an experienced lawyer who can help you achieve your goals. Understanding how attorney fees work prepares you to find the best possible lawyer for your needs.

How ContractsCounsel Works
Hiring a lawyer on ContractsCounsel is easy, transparent and affordable.
1. Post a Free Project
Complete our 4-step process to provide info on what you need done.
2. Get Bids to Review
Receive flat-fee bids from lawyers in our marketplace to compare.
3. Start Your Project
Securely pay to start working with the lawyer you select.

Meet some of our Lawyers

Emmanuel K. on ContractsCounsel
View Emmanuel
5.0 (1)
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Emmanuel K.

Corporate Lawyer
Free Consultation
Little Rock, Arkansas
1 Yr Experience
Licensed in GA
University of Georgia School of Law

I am a corporate Attorney licensed in the state of Georgia and Ghana. My professional career started in 2016 as a litigator in a private law firm in Ghana. Subsequently in 2018, I moved in house to work for the University of Ghana and this is where my corporate transactional work experience began. Since coming to the US in 2019, I have gained significant transactional experience through internships at Verizon and Tricentis (a software testing company) during law school at UGA. Since graduating from UGA law school, I have worked as a corporate transactional attorney of an AmLaw 200 firm. In that role, I helped foreign companies entering the US market to establish a presence and comply with applicable corporate laws while doing business. I also assisted customers and service providers in the software and technology industry by reviewing SaaS and similar contracts. Also, I helped energy utilities in the renewable energy space navigate regulatory and policy issues and establish contractual business relationships through contract reviews.

Merry A. on ContractsCounsel
View Merry
5.0 (4)
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Merry A.

Free Consultation
Lakebay, WA
37 Yrs Experience
Licensed in WA
Seattle University School of Law (formerly UPS School of Law) Juris Doctorate

Merry Kogut is a licensed attorney based in Washington State who has been a legal expert on JustAnswer since 2008 specializing in employment law, consumer protection and discrimination issues. She has been an attorney handling WA State phone consultations for Arag Legal Insurance since April, 2023. She has also been an attorney in private practice since 1986, and was in-house legal counsel for multiple WA State government agencies. She brings nearly 50 years combined legal and professional writing experience. Earlier in her career, Merry served as a law clerk for the Washington State Court of Appeals, and as a discrimination specialist, investigator and legislative liaison. She also helped establish the “Legal Writing Institute,” a national association of legal writing instructors and administrators. Merry earned her law degree from the Seattle University (formerly University of Puget Sound) School of Law.

Fred V. on ContractsCounsel
View Fred
Member Since:
July 24, 2023
Andrew T. on ContractsCounsel
View Andrew
Member Since:
July 24, 2023

Andrew T.

Free Consultation
Indianapolis, IN
10 Yrs Experience
Licensed in IN
Indiana University Maurer School of Law

I am a lawyer with over 10 years of experience drafting and negotiating complex capital agreements, service agreements, SaaS agreements, waivers and warranties.

John A. on ContractsCounsel
View John
Member Since:
July 24, 2023

John A.

Managing Attorney
Free Consultation
Baltimore, Maryland
11 Yrs Experience
Licensed in MD
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

John Arthur-Mensah is a highly skilled attorney with extensive expertise in drafting contracts, information law, international law, insurance defense, and complex civil litigation. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a keen eye for detail and a strong ability to craft well-structured, comprehensive legal agreements. John's track record includes successfully managing the entire contract drafting process, from initial negotiation to final execution. His proficiency in legal research and documentation enables him to ensure that contracts comply with applicable laws and regulations. With a strategic approach and persuasive communication skills, John excels in negotiating contract terms and providing valuable counsel on contractual matters. Admitted to the Maryland Bar and the United States District Court in Maryland, he is well-equipped to handle a diverse range of legal challenges, making him a valuable asset in contract drafting and beyond.

Albert I. on ContractsCounsel
View Albert
Member Since:
July 25, 2023

Albert I.

Free Consultation
Irvine, California
35 Yrs Experience
Licensed in CA
Pepperdine University SOL

Construction lawyer practicing in Southern California since 1988. Have extensive experience in construction contracts and forms drafting, negotiating. I also serve as counsel for large material suppliers and have extensive experience in commercial transactions, drafting and negotiation of commercial documents including dealerships, NDAs, etc.

Brad B. on ContractsCounsel
View Brad
Member Since:
July 28, 2023

Brad B.

Free Consultation
Denison, Iowa
17 Yrs Experience
Licensed in IA, NE
University of South Dakota

Business attorney with over 15 years of experience serving companies big and small with contracting including business, real estate and employment.

Nicole W. on ContractsCounsel
View Nicole
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Nicole W.

Managing Attorney
Free Consultation
Atlanta, GA
15 Yrs Experience
Licensed in GA
City University of New York School of Law

At Whalen Legal Group, PC, we strive to ensure that our clients are provided with the highest quality legal representation. Our team is committed to providing you with personalized and effective legal advice. We specialize in Business Law, Estate Planning and Trust, and Real Estate Law and have years of experience in these fields.Our goal is to provide our clients with the best possible service and to ensure that their legal matters are handled with compassion, integrity, and transparency. We understand that every situation is different and we take the time to listen and understand each and every one of our clients’ needs.

Zachary D. on ContractsCounsel
View Zachary
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Zachary D.

Business Lawyer
Free Consultation
Holladay, UT
14 Yrs Experience
Licensed in ID, UT, WY
The George Washington University Law School

Helping small business owners meet their legal needs.

Charles M. on ContractsCounsel
View Charles
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Charles M.

Free Consultation
20 Yrs Experience
Licensed in IL
DePaul University

Mr. McElvenny has extensive experience handling and developing strategy for complex commercial and real estate cases. He’s drafted hundreds of complaints ranging from simple breaches of contract to complex commercial claims including breach of fiduciary duty, constructive trusts and misappropriation of trade secrets. He has an excellent record in trial, arbitration and mediation. He also has significant experience in motion practice in both state and federal court. Through his work in corporate law, Mr. McElvenny has developed considerable experience with Limited Liability Company member disputes and general corporate governance. He’s drafted a number of industry-specific documents such as Operating Agreements (for Limited Liability Companies), commercial leases, settlement agreements and employment contracts. Mr. McElvenny has also represented criminal defendants in felony matters and assisted in the defense of civil matters arising from alleged SEC violations. He has represented individuals appearing before the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation as a result of SEC proceedings. After graduating with a B.A. in Philosophy, Mr. McElvenny proceeded from Loyola University-Chicago to DePaul University College of Law, receiving his JD from that institution in 2002. In 2010, he earned his Master’s of Science in Accounting from Loyola University-Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Mr. McElvenny was selected to Illinois’ Super Lawyers Rising Stars in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Marykaren R. on ContractsCounsel
View Marykaren
Member Since:
July 26, 2023

Marykaren R.

Privacy and Data Protection Counsel
Free Consultation
Boulder, CO, USA
5 Yrs Experience
Licensed in DC
University of Wyoming College of Law

I provide legal advice and guidance on complex privacy laws and regulations including: Privacy Policies, incident response & state data breach notification laws, privacy risk and risk assessments, PIAs/DPIAs, contracts, and policies and procedures to help build consumer trust and ensure compliance. I am successful by encouraging collaboration with stakeholders to ensure a successful and sustainable program.

Find the best lawyer for your project

Browse Lawyers Now
other helpful articles

How It Works

Post Your Project

Get Free Bids to Compare

Hire Your Lawyer


Want to speak to someone?

Get in touch below and we will schedule a time to connect!

Request a call

Find lawyers and attorneys by city