How Much Does a Lawyer Cost? (2019 Update)
Want to know how much a lawyer will cost? Read this guide to find out how legal fees are structured and how they're charged to clients.
When you realise you need to hire a lawyer for an issue you’re facing, it’s easy to automatically think about the expenses you’re about to incur. In this article, we’ll break down how lawyers charge for their work so you’ll have an idea of how much a lawyer will cost.
Lawyers charge all different sorts of rates, starting from the low-hundreds to $11,000 per day in Court. It is a fair assumption that lawyers charging higher rates should provide better legal services – but this isn’t always the case. How much your lawyer will cost depends on many things.
Some of these include:
- The complexity of your legal issue
- The level of experience of the lawyer working on your matter
- How much stationary, documents and other materials are used
- Whether a barrister is briefed
- Filing fees
- Whether your matter is urgent
- Requirements of the law firm (set rates)
- Whether any expert witnesses give evidence
Professional fees are what a lawyer charges for their expertise, time and experience. These fees do not include incidentals such as filing fees, stationary, postage or copying. It’s important to note that professional fees (unlike Court filing fees) also attract GST, meaning that 10% of the cost will be added to your bill.
Fixed-fee arrangements are becoming more common for legal matters. For straightforward matters such as issuing a letter, drafting a will, or reviewing a contract, your lawyer may quote the cost up front. This means that you won’t be charged on a time-cost basis and will know exactly what you’re paying. Fixed-fee structures are becoming increasingly popular amongst clients and lawyers. Further, there are online marketplaces where you can find a lawyer who will provide you with an up-front quote.
You have hired a local lawyer, Jessica, to draft and send a letter of demand on your behalf. Jessica has said that to draft, review and send the letter it will cost you $200. You can be assured that if you pay this cost up front, then you won’t receive any bills for the work down the line.
For more complicated legal matters, it is less likely that you’ll be charged a fixed-fee. If your legal matter is ongoing (such as one where legal proceedings are on foot), then it may be hard for a lawyer to quote your cost upfront and will bill you based on their hourly rate.
Many lawyers charge their fees on a time-cost basis. This means that they charge based on the amount of time they spend working on your matter. In most cases, this is set by an hourly rate. For example, a junior lawyer may charge $330 per hour, or a paralegal $190 an hour.
Some common hourly rates are:
- Senior partner or principal – $600 – $700 per hour
- Associate – $350 – 450 per hour
- Lawyer – $200 – $350 per hour
- Graduate – $150 – $250 per hour
- Paralegal – $100 to $200 per hour
Solicitors and other professionals (such as accountants) will often keep a record of the work they have done by keeping a timesheet. A timesheet records the date, description, client, and amount of time (billing units) spent on a task. The timesheet is then put into software and used to calculate a client’s bill. Solicitors will also often have minimum billing targets, for example, that they have to bill for 6 hours of work per day.
Many lawyers bill in time units. Most often, this is broken down into 6 minute units. A lawyer will list on their timesheet the number of units applicable for each task they have performed for your matter. To put this in perspective, a task that takes your lawyer 30 minutes will equate to 5 units of time. It’s also important to note that solicitors will round up their units, so something that takes 8 minutes will still count as 2 units, rather than 1.
Your lawyer, Jessica, has drafted a letter of demand on your behalf. The letter took her 40 minutes. Jessica lists this on her timesheet as 7 units. If Jessica charges a rate of $400 per hour for her work, this means she will charge $40 per 6 minute unit. This means for the 7 time units of work completed, you will be charged $280.
Aside from professional fees, you will also have to pay filing fees and disbursements. Disbursements include external services, such as taxi fees to and from Court, and barristers fees. Smaller fees for things such as printing costs and stationary can also be referred to as ‘sundries’ on your invoice.
Understandably, legal costs can seem expensive and hard to keep track of. Some solicitors will account for this and have arrangements where the costs can be more manageable.
Some of these include:
- An hourly rate with a ceiling (maximum fee)
- A cost estimate which has been negotiate
- No win, no fee (the solicitor will only charge you if your case is successful)
Keeping track of your costs
To keep track of your finances, talk to your lawyer about any anticipated fees, such as filing fees or delivery charges. This will avoid the appearance of any nasty surprises along the way.
Also, keep it transparent. Ask your lawyer for a quote for costs for his or her legal services, and get this fee agreement in writing. You can also ask:
- If the first meeting is free or discounted
- How much, and when you will have to pay
You may also ask for a detailed bill of your legal services, usually within 30 days. Receiving an itemised bill will help you see where the time on your matter has been spent.
Where to find a lawyer
How much your lawyer will cost ultimately depends on the legal issue you are facing and the lawyer you engage. If you want to save costs, entering into a fixed-fee arrangement will save you money in the long run. Further, you can compare, search and hire lawyers on our online marketplace, where you will only be charged on a fixed-fee basis. For a more detailed list of costs involved with common legal jobs, you can check out our legal pricing menu. Although lawyers are known to be expensive, there are ways you can mitigate the costs and make sure you’re getting value for your money.
Jackie is the Content Manager at Lawpath and manages the content team. She has a Law/Arts (Politics) degree from Macquarie University and is an admitted solicitor in the Supreme Court of NSW. She's interested in how technology can help shape the future legal landscape.