No one would dispute that legal fees are expensive, but few people understand exactly how their fee is calculated or how much an attorney actually charges them per hour. Lawyers typically charge their clients in one of two ways: flat fees and hourly rates.

Flat fees are used when an attorney has a general idea of how complex a case is and how long it will take them to complete. Many clients prefer flat rates because they like the idea of knowing exactly how much the representation will cost them upfront. In reality, it is the client that generally ends of getting the short end of the stick because most lawyers will over-estimate a flat rate in order to avoid performing services free of charge.

Hourly fees for attorneys tend to range from $100-$500 per hour depending upon the attorney's experience, reputation and location. Attorneys in major metropolitan areas generally charge more than small town lawyers. Most lawyers will request a retainer fee from clients who will be billed under an hourly rate system. Retainer fees vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars and up. The purpose of the retainer is security. Before a lawyer invests his or her time working on your case, they want to know that they will be paid for their services. Your retainer is placed in a trust account until it is earned by the attorney. You should receive monthly statements from your lawyer detailing how many hours he or she worked on your case and how much of your retainer has been deducted to pay for those specific services. Even though hourly rates may not be very popular with clients, they allow clients to be charged only for work that was actually completed by an attorney.