On average, hiring a lawyer costs approximately $243 an hour. However, some clients might pay less than $100 an hour or as high as roughly $300 to $450 an hour.
Average attorney fees:
National average fee
Low-end cost range
less than $100/hour
High-end cost range
Your fees can add up quickly and fluctuate greatly depending on several factors. The charges you’re facing, the complexity of your case, the fee structure and many other variables can drive expenses up and down.
Here's everything you need to know about attorney fees and how to get cost estimates from pros near you.
What’s in this cost guide?
The following are fee estimates for attorneys who practice various specialties and charge by the hour.
|Personal injury lawyer (e.g., car accidents)||$20-$298|
|Criminal defense lawyer||$150-$300|
|Traffic law attorney||$150-$240|
|Family law attorney (e.g., child custody)||$125-$325|
|Intellectual property attorney (e.g., patents)||$130-$350|
|Labor and employment attorney (e.g., wrongful termination)||$175-$350|
|Real estate attorney||$150-$450|
|Corporate law attorney||$200-$360|
|Personal bankruptcy attorney||$200-$300|
It’s important to remember that although some lawyers charge lower hourly rates than others, your fees can fluctuate depending on your legal issue.
For example, the minimum fee for a criminal defense lawyer is lower than the rate for a divorce lawyer. However, divorce legal fees could exceed $20,000 and defending a misdemeanor might cost less than $10,000. That’s because a divorce might take several years to resolve, whereas a misdemeanor could get dismissed in less time.
Ultimately, your total expenses will depend on how complicated or novel your case is and, as a result, how much time your lawyer has to spend working on it.
Attorneys can utilize different fee arrangements, and the most common are hourly, flat and contingency billing structures, as well as retainer fees.
With this fee arrangement, you pay an hourly rate with billing typically broken down into 1/10th of an hour or in 6-minute increments. For example, if the hourly rate is $100 per hour and 5.6 hours were spent working on your case, you would owe them $560 for the work.
When a lawyer charges by the hour, they typically charge for all tasks, big and small. For example, phone calls and emails between you and your lawyer will be included in the hourly rate.
The following are several types of charges commonly found in hourly fee arrangements:
- Initial consultation
- Phone calls and emails
- Review and analysis of documents
- Drafting documents
- Settlement negotiations
- Preparing and filing a claim
- Legal research
In a flat fee arrangement, you pay a fixed fee for their legal work. Flat fees are growing in popularity and are typically used in simpler cases such as uncontested divorces, residential real estate purchases, preparing documents to form a business, writing wills and creating basic contracts.
In a contingency fee arrangement, you’re only responsible for paying attorney fees if they succeed in obtaining a financial recovery on your behalf. If they do, you pay them a percentage of the recovery. If they don’t, you don’t owe money for the legal work — but you may still have to cover various legal fees and expenses (for example, court filing fees). Always review your engagement letter with an attorney to determine how fees and expenses will be handled separately from the contingency fee.
These fees are most common with lawyers who specialize in personal injury and workers' compensation, according to the American Bar Association. However, they are often prohibited in certain types of cases. For example, criminal defense lawyers cannot take cases on a contingency fee basis.
Many clients are required to pay retainer fees, especially when the attorney bills on an hourly basis. This fee can be thought of as a deposit. As the attorney works on your case, they’ll bill you and utilize the money held in the retainer.
In addition to attorney fees, the client is often responsible for additional fees and court costs. For example, the client may have to pay the expense of filing documents, mailing documents, obtaining copies, using paralegals, hiring expert witnesses and more.
These expenses are typically billed along with the attorney's fees as separate line items. Make sure you speak with your lawyer to understand exactly which fees you’re responsible for.
The primary factors that can impact your lawyer fees are experience, location and case complexity.
Type of lawyer
There are many different types of attorneys. Some specialize in traffic law or immigration, and others practice family law and real estate, for example. And they often have different fees.
Those with highly specialized niches tend to charge more than those who focus on straightforward, commonly practiced areas of law. For example, estate attorneys who focus on avoiding probate might charge more than those who focus on simple real estate transactions involving straightforward mortgages.
More experienced and reputable attorneys can typically charge more for their sought-after services. The trade-off is that you benefit from their years of knowledge. And, those who are more experienced can sometimes complete tasks faster than those with less experience.
Your location can impact your fees. Attorneys in large cities with a high cost of living may charge more than those who live in less expensive cities. And courts in different states, cities and counties have different fee amounts for various services.
The more complex and unique your case is and the longer it drags on, the higher your fees will be. For example, fees for a complex patent law litigation that goes to court will likely be higher than fees for a simple breach of contract case that settles out of court.
There are ways to save money while still getting excellent legal help. Use these tips to get the best possible price:
Tip #1: Ask for a lower rate
If you’ve found someone you like, but their fee is more than you’re willing or able to pay, ask for a lower rate. They might be willing to work with you and reduce their rates or, at a minimum, offer you a payment plan so you can spread the cost over time. Don’t be afraid to propose a fee agreement that works best for you.
Tip #2: Don’t go with the first attorney you see
To save money, don’t automatically hire the attorney you’re familiar with from billboards or TV commercials. The law firms that spend the most money on marketing and advertising might not be the most affordable. Before you hire anyone, research multiple lawyers to find an expert who’s qualified and has reasonable, affordable pricing.
Tip #3: Consider smaller firms
Small law firms and solo practitioners may have lower rates. Research these firms as you’re searching for legal representation.
Tip #4: Avoid unnecessary communication
Quick emails and calls can quickly add up to hundreds of dollars in fees. Minimize these expenses by carefully choosing your questions, consolidating them into one email or phone call, and avoiding unnecessary discussions.
Tip #5: Look for legal aid or pro bono services
Depending on your financial situation, you might be able to secure legal aid to cover (or reduce) your fees. Look for organizations and programs in your city.
Tip #6: Resolve the dispute without going to trial
Of course, avoiding litigation or perhaps resolving the dispute in a small claims court is ideal. But sometimes, it's impossible to avoid litigation. Still, try to work with your lawyer and the other party to reach a settlement without having to go to court. Going through a trial can increase your fees.
Choosing a lawyer is an important decision. Use these steps to find the right one for your case and budget:
Step #1: Find options
Go online and use search tools like Thumbtack to find attorneys in your area. Ask trusted friends and family members for recommendations.
Step #2: Narrow your list
Once you have a list of attorneys, narrow it down and consider things like their:
- proximity to your home
- license and education background
- client testimonials
- record of success
If you can’t find all of the basic information you need online, contact them and ask.
Step #3: Schedule a consultation
After you’ve narrowed down your options, start scheduling meetings. Your relationship should be built on mutual trust to be successful. If you can get a free or discounted consultation or informational meeting, take advantage of it.
There’s no substitute for talking to someone face-to-face, via video chat or on the phone. You'll get a much better sense of their approach.
Step #4. Ask crucial questions
Don’t be intimidated to ask questions. Here are some you can ask:
- How much do you charge?
- What is included in your rate?
- What do you think the total cost for this case will be?
- When will you send bills?
- What is your experience with these types of cases?
- Who will be working on my case?
- What is your assessment of my case?
- How long will my case take?
- How long have you been practicing this type of law?
- Are you regularly available by phone or email if I have questions?
Step #5: Read the contract
Before signing anything, read the entire contract. If you have questions, or if the contract isn’t consistent with your understanding of the agreement, ask them to explain or make changes before you sign. If their explanation seems inconsistent with what you read, ask them to change the language to clarify.
Looking for more tips on how to make a safe online hire? Visit Thumbtack’s Safety Page, which has detailed advice for professionals online.
Now that you understand how attorney fees work, it’s time to start your search. Look for pros on Thumbtack, and start asking them questions about their rates, process and services.
The following are answers to the most commonly asked questions about attorney fees.
Do you have to pay attorney fees?
In most cases, if an attorney does work for you, you must pay them a fee. The most notable exceptions are if they agree to work for you for free — which is called working pro bono — or if the court appoints an attorney for you, such as a public defender in a criminal case.
And in some arrangements, you might not have to pay attorney fees if:
- You have a contingency agreement with your lawyer and you don’t win your case
- Or, you win your case and the court orders the other party to cover your legal fees
Ask your lawyer to explain how payment will work if you win or lose your dispute.
Is it better to hire a local attorney?
It’s a good idea to hire an attorney who lives in the same city or state as you (and is licensed in your state). Local attorneys also have knowledge that out-of-town attorneys don’t have, such as a deep understanding of local laws, courts, judges and jury pools, which can help them develop the strongest case for you.
When should I hire an attorney?
It’s usually best to hire an attorney as soon as you learn that you have a legal issue or question. For example, consider hiring someone if you’re involved in a lawsuit, you’re accused of a crime, you’re being investigated for a crime or if you have questions about the law that are beyond your knowledge.
Common reasons people hire attorneys are for defense in a criminal case, advice on business matters and resolving a civil dispute.
What percentage does an attorney get?
Many attorneys charge an hourly rate or flat fee. When a lawyer takes a percentage of a recovery as their payment, it is called a contingency fee, or contingent fee.
The amount they can charge as a contingency fee may depend on state laws. And, usually, the percentage is negotiable. For example, you might be able to secure a 30% contingency fee that decreases as the awarded recovery increases. So, the contingency fee might be 30% if you recover $100,000 (after expenses) but will drop to 20% if you recover $150,000.
Is hiring a lawyer worth it?
Getting a lawyer is not mandatory (especially if you're representing yourself in a small claims court), but it can give you peace of mind and help ensure your case is handled correctly and fairly. They can help you avoid common mistakes that can cost you more time and money in the long run.