As you wait to meet with your lawyer, there’s probably a single question on your mind. It doesn’t have to do with winning your case, with getting better, or even making the party who hurt you pay. Instead, it’s far simpler – you wonder how much all of this is going to cost you. You’ve heard horror stories of being bled dry in litigation and you’re wondering exactly how much you’re going to end up paying. You’ve probably spent too much time online looking at quotes and second-hand stories, but you haven’t found any concrete information. Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t as cut and dry as you might hope.
Getting an answer means starting with the basics. No two lawyers charge exactly the same amount for the same case. There are dozens of economic factors tying into this, but a great deal of this can rest on issues as mundane as how much it costs a lawyer to do business. Basic overhead costs like rent get passed along to the client just as it does in any other business, so you could have two equally successful lawyers in different parts of town who will charge wildly different rates.
Even if you think you’ve found a lawyer who will charge you less than the others, you haven’t quite figured out how much you’re going to pay. A successful lawyer isn’t just good with the law – he or she understands how to run his or her business. Lawyers know they can’t get blood from a stone, so there’s no point trying to charge more than a client can pay. With that said, you’ll generally see a different amount charged to a successful CEO than to a fast food worker – it’s all about working with the real economic circumstances of your clients.
You’ll also be dealing with the specifics of the case when it comes to price. This isn’t as cut and dried as the lawyer charging more because he or she thinks your case is less likely to win, either – complex cases require the lawyer to spend more hours working, have his or her staff work longer, and deal with a variety of unpleasant fees. If an attorney thinks that your case is going to take up the bulk of his or her firm’s time, you can expect the attorney to charge you more for his or her representation.
There’s also the possibility of a contingency fee. Contingency fees are the always-popular “you don’t pay unless you win” fee, but they can be much more than you expect. In California, your attorney can (and will) charge you up to twenty thousand dollars for the first fifty thousand dollars you win, and up to twenty-five percent of the next five hundred thousand you win. This can constitute an enormous amount of money depending on the case, but it’s the lawyer’s to take since he or she was willing to take less (or even nothing) up front when he or she took the case.
So, how much will your case cost you? The only honest answer is that you will need to talk to your lawyer. He or she will give you a breakdown of the billing structure, but will likely be unable to give you a total price tag up front. Law is complicated, and the billing practices related to it are often just as complicated. Remember, though, the cost of working with an attorney will almost always be offset by the benefits. Without the help of an attorney, it’s fairly easy to tell you what you’ll be able to recover – not nearly as much as you deserve.