It is important to come to an understanding about legal fees before representation begins. Most legal matters are billed at an hourly rate. In this instance, I typically ask for a retainer, which is an initial deposit that will be held in escrow while I begin working on your case. As I spend billable time on your case, I will maintain a record of my fees and periodically issue invoices. These invoices are paid from funds in the escrow account. Depending on the status of your case when the escrow funds have been exhausted, I may ask for additional funds to replenish the retainer, or I may send a bill for any balance due. If any funds remain in escrow when your case is completed, those funds will be returned to you.
Another fee arrangement is a flat fee. For some matters, such as a simple Will, I can set a price for the service. Even in litigation situations, it may be possible to charge a series of flat fee payments based upon work performed during specific stages of the case. For example, we may be able to divide up your case into a series of sections that consist of flat fees to be paid at the beginning of each section. Examples of different litigation sections would be as follows: pre-filing work, initial pleadings, discovery, mediation, motions hearings, settlement conference, and trial.
In some situations, it may be possible to use a contingent fee. A contingent fee agreement means that I would only be paid for my time if you collect an award at the end of your case. Contingent fees are most common personal injury matters. Any costs relating to the litigation would still be your responsibility. Examples of costs include filing fees, service of process fees, and expert witness fees. Also in personal injury matters, an insurer may have a lien against any money that you collect in your case. This lien must be settled and paid from any proceeds of your award. Contingent fees are not appropriate for many matters such as family law or criminal law.
Lastly, if the cost of legal services is too expensive, there is another option. We can reach what is called a “limited scope agreement” that limits my work on your case and provides you with more certainty about the costs of representation. For example, in a divorce case, you might limit our services to a consultation and preparation of the initial pleadings. Or you may want to fill out the initial pleadings yourself and only retain me to help you with discovery. If you feel comfortable doing the pretrial work yourself, we may reach a limited scope agreement that covers representation in court. Please keep in mind that, with a limited scope agreement, you would be responsible for everything in your case that is not included in the agreement. In other words, if you just want me to help you with your trial, I will have no control over the discovery process and the viability of using discovery information at trial will be entirely dependent on the discovery that you do yourself. It is my preference to be in a case from start to finish, but litigation can be very expensive. Limited scope agreements are an important option for people who cannot otherwise afford the cost of litigation. As a member of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Section of Delivery of Legal Services, I am committed to offering clients of limited means an opportunity to obtain legal representation, even if it is only for part of their case.