understanding the fee structure for lawyers

Are you hesitant to contact a local Minneapolis–St. Paul lawyer to help with your legal needs due to the potential cost? Searching for, finding and hiring a lawyer can be an intimidating process, especially if you’ve never been through it before. While some attorneys can be expensive, you should keep in mind that many attorneys carefully price their services to ensure clients from all walks of life can afford representation. It may be worth your time to do a little digging to find out for sure how much your legal services might cost before you forgo legal representation.

The referral counselors at the Minnesota Lawyer Referral and Information Service (MNLRIS) can answer many of your questions about hiring an attorney. They can help you understand the potential fees involved. Call us at (612) 752-6699 to speak with a referral counselor today.

Types of Fee Structures

There are four primary types of attorney fee structures as well as a few alternative methods of funding legal services. The most common fees include:

  • Hourly rates
  • Flat fees
  • Contingency fees
  • Retainers

Hourly Rates

Hourly fees are fairly straightforward. You’re charged per hour (or fraction thereof) for the work your attorney performs on your case. Hourly rates are not standardized among all attorneys within the same area of practice throughout the Minneapolis metro area. Attorneys who have specializations, decades of experience and particularly prestigious records of case results may charge significantly more than newer attorneys or ones who aren’t board-certified in their area of practice. Before entering into an agreement with an attorney you should understand:

  • Exactly what constitutes labor on the part of the lawyer (i.e., phone calls with you, research on your case, filings, etc.)
  • How you might be fractionally billed for services or communication, like phone calls or email correspondences, that don’t last a full hour

Flat Fees

Flat fees are particularly common in legal practices that rely on filling out boilerplate legal documents, like family law and estate planning. Some attorneys in these practice areas may charge a specific price for an uncontested divorce, drafting a basic will or other relatively straightforward legal services. In most cases attorneys will only charge flat fees if they know in advance how long it will take them to perform the specific job.

Contingency Fees

Contingency fees are typically only available in civil matters and tort litigation because the fee itself is tied directly to the amount of compensation the attorney negotiates or wins on the client’s behalf. In other words, their pay will be “contingent” on the outcome of your case, which means they have an incentive to maximize the settlement or verdict they negotiate or win on your behalf. Contingency fees typically range from 30 to 40 percent based on the law firm and the case type.

Contingency fees for plaintiffs in personal injury cases are vital to the proper functioning of the legal system. Many people who suffer slip and fall or car crash injuries don’t have the cash on hand to pay hourly fees or retainers. Contingency fees allow them to receive skilled and experienced representation with no out-of-pocket costs or fees. The attorney will receive their fee directly from the eventual payment the client receives from the insurance company or defendant.


Retainers are essentially hourly fees paid up front. The client will normally place an agreed upon retainer amount into a retainer account and the attorney will deduct their hourly fee or charges out of that account.  Retainers can potentially be used in all areas of law, but are typically reserved for individual and corporate clients who require long-term legal services or representation in complex criminal or civil matters. They may also be the preferred payment method if the attorney has any concerns about a client’s solvency or their reliability to pay their fee in full.

Pro Bono Services and Legal Aid

You may still be able to access competent and skilled legal representation even if you don’t have the funds on hand to cover a retainer, hourly rate or flat fee payment structure. A variety of legal aid organizations help people who meet certain income thresholds, and some law firms offer pro bono services (free representation) to clients who meet eligibility criteria. The referral counselors at MNLRIS can help you understand whether you may qualify for local legal aid resources.

Find the Right Minneapolis – St. Paul Attorney for Your Needs  

One of the benefits of living in a large metro area like ours is access to a truly diverse array of skilled attorneys in nearly every possible practice area. Competent legal representation doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all price. If you’re worried about the cost of an attorney, it may be in your best interest to discuss your situation with one of our referral counselors. They can help you find local attorneys near you, give you a basic idea on what the services you require may cost on average and direct you toward potential legal aid resources. Call us today at (612) 752-6699 to get started.