Every client wants to know the answer to this very question, and wants to know it as early as possible. Lawyers are expensive, and it’s both fair and reasonable to ask your attorney up front what the representation is likely to cost you. Unfortunately, due to the unpredictable nature of civil litigation, it’s often very difficult for trial lawyers to provide you an estimate with any degree of certainty. But, there are some principles that you can employ to help you understand what your matter is likely to cost. Generally speaking, the cost of the representation is going to be a function of the following factors:
1. The complexity of your legal matter;
2. The amount of the damages at stake; and
3. The personalities of the key players in your lawsuit.
Complexity is the single most important factor for determining cost. Some lawsuits are fairly simple: You have a breach of a contract, and perhaps all you need to do is submit the contract and report the breach. On the other hand, proving fraud–meaning you have to prove the intent to deceive–is complicated because you have to use circumstantial evidence to prove what was going on in another person’s mind.
The amount of damages raises the stakes for everyone involved. When there is more money in play, the parties involved in the case tend to resist resolution more and invest more time and energy into the suit.
Finally–and this is probably the biggest wild card of all–the personalities of the key players in your lawsuit will be a major factor, including your own lawyer, the opposing party or parties, the opposing lawyers and last, but not least: You. Some people gravitate toward efficiently resolving conflicts and legal matters–which results in decreased costs; whereas others may drive up costs by being obstinate, irrational about their position, standing on principal rather than making a business decision, or simply because they are emotionally invested in a given outcome.
And a final work on fee agreements: Law firms may do any variation of these, but our firm uses two basic agreements: One is an hourly rate agreement, in which we charge an hourly rate for all services (typically somewhere between $175 and $300 an hour, depending on which attorney is working). We usually require a retainer for these cases, where the client advances at least several thousand dollars to our trust account, which we then deplete as fees accrue.
The other fee agreement we utilize is the contingent fee agreement, in which the law firm doesn’t get paid unless we win money for you, in which case, we take a percentage cut. We won’t know if your matter fits the mold of a contingent fee agreement instead of an hourly agreement unless you give us a call and schedule a consultation.