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

ContractsCounsel verified
Managing Partner
23 years practicing
Free Consultation

Tim has 20 years of experience representing a wide variety of emerging and established companies in the technology, software, bitcoin and professional services industries. He works directly with his clients’ executives and boards of directors on corporate, intellectual property, and securities law issues. Recently, Tim has advised clients on Series A and Series B financings, corporate structuring, complex video licensing agreements, and structuring new hedge funds. Tim previously served as Forrester Research, Inc.’s General Counsel and Secretary where he was chief legal officer, led the company’s legal group, and managed the company’s legal and regulatory affairs. Tim played an integral role in the company’s initial public offering in 1997 and coordinated its secondary offering in 2000. He directed the legal process in the company’s acquisitions of Giga Information Group, Inc., Fletcher Research and Forit GmbH and oversaw over $125million in transactions. He also managed the company’s intellectual property assets. Tim is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and New York. Tim holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Boston College Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Trinity College

ContractsCounsel verified
Assistant General Counsel
17 years practicing
Free Consultation

Melissa Green joined the American Medical Association (AMA) as an Assistant General Counsel in November 2019. In her role at the AMA, Melissa supports the CPT and Masterfile licensing programs, in addition to supporting the legal needs of the Professional Satisfaction and Practice Sustainability business unit. Prior to arriving at the AMA, Melissa was the Chief Legal Counsel and Privacy Officer at The Chartis Group, a healthcare advisory services and analytics company, headquartered in Chicago, where she was responsible for commercial transactions for Chartis and its wholly owned SaaS company, and also served as the organization’s privacy officer responsible for HIPAA compliance. Melissa started her legal career in Cincinnati, Ohio at the law firm of Frost Brown Todd where she served as an associate in the Corporate department doing healthcare transactions, securities, and general corporate work. In 2007, Melissa transitioned into her first in-house counsel role at GE Aviation. During her time at GE, she had many roles including supporting new engine sales transactions for the Europe/Middle East/Africa region, its Electric Power business located in Dayton, its Engine Services business (supporting the CF34 and CF6 engine lines), and compliance. Upon leaving GE, Melissa had a brief stint at MedStar in Virginia before accepting a full-time position at the University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore, Maryland in July 2013. Originally from East Lansing, Michigan, Melissa received her bachelor’s graduate from Michigan State University’s – James Madison College and is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.

ContractsCounsel verified
40 years practicing
Free Consultation

My Legal career hasfocused on representing businesses (corporations and limited liability companies) as general outside counsel. In this capacity, I have drafted a broad range of legal documents as well as analyzed proposed agreements drafted by the other party's attorney to the agreement for the pupose of determining the risks to which my client would be exposed. I maintained the client's minute book if no one in-house was available for that task. Additionally, if rquested, I served as a general advisor to the client's executive offers and to its Board of Directors.

ContractsCounsel verified
Corporate Attorney
17 years practicing
Free Consultation

Corporate counsel with years of in-house experience working with and reporting to board / executive-level and upper management, along with extensive regional / national law firm background in commercial transactions and contracts, complex commercial litigation, and employment matters. Skilled at executing corporate priorities, driving profitability by implementing goal-oriented processes to achieve revenue and productivity targets, and managing company litigation and outside counsel. Recognized for creating policies and practices to address ethical dilemmas and resolving misconduct.

ContractsCounsel verified
25 years practicing
Free Consultation

Attorney creating plans and strategies to help individuals create, build, protect and pass on wealth.

ContractsCounsel verified
Principal Attorney
23 years practicing
Free Consultation

Keidi S. Carrington brings a wealth of legal knowledge and business experience in the financial services area with a particular focus on investment management. She is a former securities examiner at the United States Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and Associate Counsel at State Street Bank & Trust and has consulted for various investment houses and private investment entities. Her work has included developing a mutual fund that invested in equity securities of listed real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other listed real estate companies; establishing private equity and hedge funds that help clients raise capital by preparing offering materials, negotiating with prospective investors, preparing partnership and LLC agreements and advising on and documenting management arrangements; advising on the establishment of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs/Token Offerings) and counseling SEC registered and state investment advisers regarding organizational structure and compliance. Ms. Carrington is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in International Relations. She earned her Juris Doctorate from New England Law | Boston and her LL.M. in Banking and Financial Law from Boston University School of Law. She is admitted to practice in Massachusetts and New York. Currently, her practice focuses on assisting start ups, small and mid size businesses with their legal needs in the areas of corporate and securities law.

ContractsCounsel verified
35 years practicing
Free Consultation

Jim Slattery most recently served as General Counsel at Regional News Network, a large owner of broadcast television stations. Jim is an experienced attorney with broad-based expertise. He is a seasoned negotiator who has been involved in negotiations as complex as the Olympic Games. Jim spent 18 years as Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs at NBCUniversal. Previously, Jim worked in the media industry in various roles at All American Television. Jim’s success can be attributed to his ability to properly analyze data, manage projects, lead teams, develop creative solutions for complex problems, focus on strategically optimizing assets, manage/allocate risk and collaborate with divergent constituent groups to achieve objectives. Jim received a J.D. and a B.B.A. from the University of Notre Dame.

ContractsCounsel verified
Attorney at Law
1 year practicing
Free Consultation

Retired Dentist transitioned to Law, with a special interest in Commercial Real Estate, Startup businesses, Asset Purchase Agreements, and Employment Contracts. I love to help dentists and physicians with legal issues pertaining to licensing, credentialing, employment, and general business-legal questions.

ContractsCounsel verified
9 years practicing
Free Consultation

I’m an attorney focusing my practice on concierge corporate and intellectual property law for startups and high-growth companies. I also serve as outside General Counsel to several businesses in various sectors. Since founding my practice I've worked with hundreds of clients across a variety of industries. My experience as a former General Counsel of a premier edtech company gives me unique insight into the challenges my clients face and how to resolve them efficiently and cost-effectively.

ContractsCounsel verified
20 years practicing
Free Consultation

The Law Office of George K. Fuiaxis, from the very beginning in 2002, has built a reputation with its clients as an unmatched, diligent, hands on law practice that is always on duty to find the best course of action for its clients. With a supreme pledge of exceptional service to its clients in the areas of Real Estate (Commercial & Residential), Loan Modifications, Intellectual Property, Corporate Law & Business Transactions, Wills, Trusts & Estates, the Law Office of George K. Fuiaxis creates solutions for the many faceted problems faced by its clients. The office represents several various clients, including well known lending institutions, foreign and domestic corporations, sellers and buyers of residential and commercial real estate, residential and commercial landlords and tenants, well known restaurant and business owners, automobile dealerships, airline companies, well known fashion, sports and entertainment industry individuals and corporations, information technology (IT) startups and well known IT companies.

ContractsCounsel verified
Immigration Attorney
4 years practicing
Free Consultation

Mr. Muhammed Uzum represents corporate clients and their employees as well as individuals in all aspects of U.S. immigration, nationality, and consular processes. Mr. Uzum’s core immigration practice focuses on strategizing and filing E-2, E-1, L-1, and EB-5 applications. His area of expertise includes responding to complex H-1B RFEs, PERM Audits, and Appeals. He also advises clients in obtaining employment-based green cards as well as self-petitions through EB-1 and NIW applications. Mr. Uzum also has vast experience in a variety of other non-immigrant visa matters including B-1, F-1, P-3, E-3, and TN filings.

Find the best lawyer for your project

Browse Lawyers Now

Want to speak to someone?

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

Request a call