Refundable Retainers v. Non-Refundable Retainers or Flat Fees
Refundable Retainers (what I do)
I operate primarily on Refundable Retainers, which means a client places money into a trust fund regulated by the state bar association. That money is used to pay for legal fees at one-tenth (0.10) hour increments and expenses every month. You only pay for the work and expenses you receive. If your case settles before trial, which many do, you receive a refund.
$3,000 for a case.
3 hours of total attorney time at $150/hr. = $450.
Expenses of $50.
Total bill = $500.
You receive $2,500 in return.
Non-Refundable Retainer or Flat Fees (what many other firms do but I do not do this)
You will be asked to pay money to cover a trial, or perhaps only a pretrial. That money is immediately spent as it is considered earned. You may or may not receive an accounting of legal fees and expenses. If your case settles before trial, you receive no money back. I do not do this.
$3,000 for a case.
Expenses of $50.
3 hours total attorney time.
Money back = $0.00.
Attorney time is now worth nearly $1000 per hour as you receive no money back.
If your case takes multiple appearances before, during, or after trial, the attorney’s time can become worth less than $100 per hour.
Note: In Minnesota it is permissible to take a Flat Fee or Non-Refundable Retainer for trial work. In Iowa this is prohibited for trial work.
Many Accident and Personal Injury cases are handled on a Contingent Fee which means that there is no money paid for legal fees until there is a settlement or verdict for money. My firm keeps a percentage of the winnings that typically depends on how far the case progresses before a settlement or final verdict is obtained. Clients are responsible for the expenses. It is unethical to handle criminal and family law cases on a Contingent Fee.
Clients receive a detailed monthly billing to the tenth of an hour for what has been done on their case, as well as documentation on all expenses. There is no “value billing”, which means a client will not be charged a minimum amount for certain services regardless of time (i.e. 0.2 minimum for each phone call), you are only billed by me for the time actually worked.
I will provide you with an honest assessment of your case based upon our initial consultation.
Most criminal misdemeanor cases will settle short of trial and you should not pay a large initial fee without a definite plan to raise true issues at a contested hearing and/or a trial. No matter what you are told as you search for an attorney, the attorney you choose does not necessarily change what a prosecutor will initially offer to you. As a former elected prosecutor, if prosecutors offered plea bargains based on who the accused hired as a lawyer, that prosecutor would not stay in office long.
Felony cases are more serious and typically have more issues that require more hearings before a trial and more trial dates. However, many felonies will also settle short of trial.
Note that once an attorney begins a criminal law case it is not likely that the court will allow the attorney to withdraw, regardless of the fee agreement and the amount of money the client has paid, and regardless of a retainer agreement requiring additional money to go to trial.
In family law cases your fees will depend upon how much you can or cannot agree with your ex-spouse. The more issues you can agree to it is likely your bill will be less. The fewer issues you can agree to it is likely your bill will be more, potentially much more based on the level of animosity between the two spouses.
Note that once an attorney begins a family law case it is likely that a court would allow an attorney to withdraw for non-payment of fees, especially when the case is not close to trial.
General practice including but not limited to trial, appeals and negotiations of legal matters dealing in all areas of criminal law and drunk driving, custody and family law, accidents and personal injury, and local government and politics.