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Understanding Attorney Fees

Depending on the kind of case involved, attorneys will usually charge for their services on a 1) flat fee basis, 2) contingent fee basis or 3) an hourly rate basis.

Flat fee charges are generally for routine matters such as wills, deeds, corporation and limited liability company formation, powers of attorney, bankruptcy, and certain criminal driving while intoxicated matters.

If the hourly basis is used, a deposit is often requested at the outset to retain or lock in the attorney’s services. The amount of the deposit will vary depending on the size of the claim, the difficulty of the legal questions involved and the amount of work expected to be involved in the case. The attorney will bill (on an hourly basis) the time expended on behalf of the client against the deposit, and if the entire deposit has been expended, the client is obligated to pay for all future work done on the client’s behalf until completion of the case.

Contingent fees are most often used in collection matters and the representation of injured parties in personal injury actions. A contingent fee is exactly what its name implies. The attorney’s fee is an agreed upon percentage of the recovery contingent on the success of the client’s claim. If the client’s case is not successful, the attorney does not get paid. Thus, the attorney will presumably “go the extra mile” to obtain not only just compensation for the client, but also payment for his or her time and efforts.

Typically, the amount of the contingent fee to the attorney will range from 25 to 40 percent, exclusive of out-of-pocket costs and expenses, which are the responsibility of the client. Examples of costs and expenses include court filing fees, court reporter expenses, duplication costs, witness fees and process service charges. These costs and expenses are often recoverable to the winning party as part of the judgment.

While the general rule is that each party must pay his their own attorney’s fees in a lawsuit, the law provides many exceptions entitling the prevailing party to have a reasonable amount of attorney’s fees paid by the opposing party. Examples include contract actions; specified actions against states, cities, towns and counties; unjustified claims; claims brought solely for delay or harassment; unreasonable delay or expanding of proceedings; and abusing the discovery process. We vigorously pursue an award of attorney fees for our clients when available.

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