Nothing comes free in life… and legal counsel is no exception. If you hire an attorney, at some point in the process you will have to consider the issue of attorney’s fees.
If you are accused of a crime and cannot afford an attorney, then you have the right to a free court-appointed defense attorney. This is a right guaranteed the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Likewise, the prosecutor in a criminal case is typically a public employee of the District Attorney’s office.
However, this only applies to criminal cases. In a civil case, all attorneys are typically private entities, and so you will need to pay attorney’s fees for their services. Many attorneys do pro bono (free) work for those who cannot afford it, but you cannot always rely on finding a pro bono attorney.
However, don’t despair: there are a few ways in which attorney’s fees are handled, and some of them are far less burdensome than you may think.
One of these ways is by charging an ordinary hourly rate, which means that for every hour the attorney works on your case, they charge a certain amount. These rates are typically quite expensive; for a good attorney, they can range into the hundreds or even thousands of dollars per hour (and the attorney will likely be working on your case for many hours).
Sometimes, to make things simpler and demonstrate commitment on behalf of the client, an attorney receives a retainer fee, which is an up-front lump sum from which they deduct their hourly rate as the case proceeds.
Other firms operate by a contingency fee agreement. This means that, if the attorney wins the case, the client pays them a certain agreed-upon percentage of the judgment or settlement. If the attorney loses the case, then the client pays nothing and the attorney swallows the costs associated with the case.
TorkLaw operates on a contingency fee arrangement. This means that, if you hire us as your attorneys, there is no up-front cost to you, and you will only have to pay if we win.
This arrangement allows clients of all income levels to receive top-notch legal representation through TorkLaw, even if they would not ordinarily be able to afford an attorney’s hourly rate. That is why contingency fee arrangements are said to “open the courthouse doors” to all people, no matter how rich or poor.
So who ends up paying the attorney’s fees? Usually each party in a lawsuit will pay for their own fees. In the United States, it is rare for the losing side in a legal case to be required to pay the winner’s attorney’s fees. This practice of making each side pay their own fees is known as the American Rule (and, as the name suggests, differs from many other countries in which the loser in a legal case is routinely required to pay the winner’s fees).
However, there are some exceptions to the American Rule. These include cases where one party sues another in bad faith, with the clear intent to harass rather than air a legitimate grievance, and cases in which the outcome will have an impact on the public interest, such as environmental and civil rights cases. Attorney’s fees may also be required if there is a pre-existing contractual obligation to do so between the parties.
In short: attorney’s fees in a legal case can be high, but with various arrangements such as the contingency fee, an attorney is well within your ability to hire, no matter your income level.