Legal fees are the cost of hiring a lawyer, and although you can do some of the work yourself there are limitations. The trick is finding and hiring the best, most trustworthy lawyer for your money. How?
Before you start searching for a law firm consider the size of the firm you want to hire. Law firms can range from 1 lawyer to many hundreds, and you will want to find a law firm that suits your case. If you need a simple divorce then a one-man divorce lawyer will probably suffice, but if you own a company that's being named in a law-suit, a large law firm would probably be more suited.
Recommendations: to find a lawyer start with asking your friends, neighbors, and colleagues of any lawyers they have hired. The lawyer or attorney they recommend may not have the specific legal expertise you need for your case, but may know a few lawyers or attorneys that would be perfect for the job. Lawyers work with other law firms so ask for recommendations.
Reviews: checking online reviews can give you some idea of what a law firm near you is like. Don't use a law firm directory that has a review system as this could be bias. Law firms pay to be on directories (except this one) and if they have bad reviews will simply stop their subscription. Instead, search Google, like this: "law firms near me"+"reviews" or "lawyers in (add your town/city)"+"reviews" - make sure you use the quotation marks and plus sign as it provides better search results.
Check the reviews and filter out those law firms that simply don't do well. Remember to read the reviews as some complaints can be quite petty and a bad review not warranted. Some people can also be vindictive towards a law firm after their case didn't go the way they wanted despite a good service. Be smart about checking reviews. Check the law firms track records—as in how they fared in specific decisions.
Check their website: once you've compiled a list of suitable lawyers or attorneys, go to their websites to check them further. You can learn a lot from their website - does it look professional, what legal and professional associations do they belong to.
At your first meeting: be ready to ask a lot of questions regarding both your particular matter and the lawyer’s practice. Some good ones are: How many similar matters have you been involved in? What were the results of those cases? Which lawyer in the firm will be working on your case? Will there be any limitations on the scope of the representation? How will you be kept informed about the progress of your case? How quickly do you respond to phone calls and e-mails? How can I reach you after normal business hours?
Lawyers fees: the lawyer may charge you for the initial consultation. Don’t take this as an affront. Many potential clients use these get-to-know-you sessions to get free legal advice. If you owned a grocery store, you wouldn’t let someone try a brand of paper towels to see how they work and then, maybe, pay for them. If the attorney does charge, simply ask if the amount will be credited to the bill later on.
Whatever you do, understand precisely how you will be charged, this will save you all sorts of headaches later on. Lawyers generally charge one of three ways: by the hour, a one-time flat fee or by contingency (percentage of the amounts recovered). Not every fee structure is permitted for every legal situation. For personal injury cases, most lawyers charge a contingency fee; for certain business transactions (such as incorporation), they’ll charge a flat fee; and for most other matters, they will ring up by the hour.
Hourly rates can range from $100 to $1,000. (Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.) Bear in mind, too, that an attorney who charges $100 per hour may take twice as long to do the same thing as an attorney who charges $200 per hour.
There are additional questions you should ask, depending on the type of fee structure. Example: If the engagement is on an hourly fee basis, you will want to know (1) the hourly rate, (2) the minimum billing increments, (3) whether there is a charge for every phone call, letter and e-mail, (4) an estimate of the number of hours the case will take (this question can be very difficult to answer), (5) what expenses might be required and (6) what happens if the case takes longer than anticipated. Many of those questions are relevant in flat-fee agreements also.
If yours is contingency arrangement, you will want to know (1) the likelihood of recovery (remember, there are no guarantees in the law), (2) an estimate of the recovery (same warning), (3) the percentage being charged, (4) the percentage most lawyers charge for the same type of case, (5) anticipated expenses and (6) what happens if the case settles immediately.
Get a handle on all of that and you’ll be ready to sign an engagement letter. This is your working contract between you and your attorney, so read it carefully. The engagement letter should describe the nature of your legal matter, as well as all of the terms and conditions of the relationship, including the hourly rate, the minimum billable increment (you should always insist on being billed in six-minute increments, not 15), the expenses you will be responsible for, the amount of the retainer and any other matters you agreed to.
If you are unsure about something in the engagement letter, call and ask. Otherwise, if you sign and return the letter, you will be bound by it.
If you owe money, your lawyer may insist on being paid before turning over your file to you or his replacement (if you choose another lawyer). Whether or not he can actually make those demands is determined by the ethics laws in your state. (The state bar association can answer that and related questions.) And don’t think you are at a disadvantage because lawyers run the bar associations – attorneys do a good job of policing themselves.