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Concern is manifested not infrequently about attorneys’ fees. Some who have benefited from a lawyer’s services occasionally express surprise at the amount charged and wonder how the lawyer arrived at a particular fee. Some contemplating engaging an attorney are hesitant to do so for fear of the cost. These latter are reluctant to ask because they think discussion of fees is not the thing to do. Both concerns can be dissipated by the following considerations.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Those who hesitate about discussing fees with a lawyer should by all means raise the question. Not only is it completely proper, but the lawyer will appreciate the question. Furthermore such discussion will eliminate misunderstanding later on.
Factors in Determining Fees
Lawyers today do not simply bill in gross without specifying in some detail the charge for separate items. It is true, nonetheless, that a per hour charge for his services is computed on the basis of a variety of factors. Some of these factors are:
1. The amount of time spent on a matter. Different lawyers may value their time at different rates because of the difference in their experience, specialized knowledge, and skill. This difference does not mean that there is no degree of uniformity. Most lawyers know what other members of their profession with similar ability and experience charge and endeavor to keep their fees in line. Lawyers know it is important that the client be satisfied.
2. Ability, experience and reputation. Good law school training combined with later legal experience constitute a lawyer’s legal education.
To be qualified to find, interpret and apply rules to a problem requires a high school diploma, a college degree, a law school degree or their equivalent, and a qualifying license from the courts. This educational process requires nearly 20 years to complete.
This technical education continues as a daily matter. The lawyer must keep up with the changes and modifications created by the legislative bodies and the courts. Seminars, institutes and continuing legal education are required for a lawyer’s license to remain in force.
An experienced lawyer may be better trained to handle your problem. If the lawyer is well known as an able lawyer of proven ability in one field of the law, his charges may be more than those of someone not so established. The situation is similar to that in the field of medicine: a doctor experienced in an area charges more for work in that area than one who has not the benefit of such experience.
3. The results that are achieved. No lawyer can guarantee results in a contested matter. Nevertheless, in cases he agrees to take the lawyer will expend his best efforts. Whether he is successful or not, he expects a reasonable remuneration for his work. In some instances a lawyer will take a case on a "contingent fee”. This arrangement is one where the lawyer takes a percentage of the recovery, which percentage is agreed upon before the work begins. This arrangement allows many people, without sufficient funds to pay a lawyer outright, to obtain legal services. This arrangement is most commonly used in the prosecution of personal injury claims and the collections of debts. This is a matter of agreement in each case between the lawyer and the prospective client.
4. Cost of training and business expenses. Legal education is very expensive, usually requiring seven full years of study and training after high school. Lawyers have large investments in their books and offices. Legal secretaries and other office help are highly paid. Frequently as much as 35 percent to 50 percent of a fee is used to defray office and other business expenses.
Often an Exact Charge Cannot Be Set in Advance
In some matters a lawyer cannot tell you exactly what the charge will be, but will nearly always be able to explain and provide an estimate of the cost. Clients should not hesitate to discuss potential costs.
When are legal fees paid?
The time for payment of legal fees depends on the type of legal service required. In some cases the lawyer may require a retainer in advance before undertaking the work and will explain the reasons. More often, the fee is due when the work is completed.
If you are not sure you will be able to pay promptly, talk it over with the lawyer and agree upon a plan for payment.
Preventive Legal Advice
(An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure)
If a person attempts his own will and does it imperfectly, spouse and children or other heirs may spend thousands of dollars trying to correct what could have been prepared properly by a lawyer for a small fraction of that sum. If one buys a printed form lease or form contract for ten cents and litigation develops because that form was not prepared exactly for the situation, the cost of settling or litigating a dispute that may well arise later can be extremely high. A person would not attempt to remove his own appendix; he would see a doctor.
Every lawyer is familiar with the situation where someone has tried to do his own legal work. When that person finally brings it to a lawyer, the damage may be serious. The cost of straightening out the situation may be many times higher than the charge the lawyer would have asked for the work in the first place. People are sometimes tempted to forego the advice of a lawyer in drawing a will or in handling a real estate transaction. In either case, the harm may be difficult or impossible to remedy.
Accidents Causing Injury
In accidents lawyers who represent the injured person usually agree to what is called a contingent fee. This means that whether the lawyer gets paid for his services or not, and how much, depends upon the amount collected. These fees are not set by the court except in special cases (such as where a minor brings suit) and should, therefore, always be discussed and agreed upon between the client and the lawyer in advance.
Administering Your Estate
Upon your death, it may be necessary to have your estate administered if your assets include real estate or certain types of personal property. Your lawyer can advise you whether your estate requires administration or is exempt from same. The District Court in which your estate is administered will determine a reasonable fee for the services performed by your lawyer in accordance with provisions in the Code of Iowa providing for compensation of fiduciaries and attorneys.
Accidents on the Job
Persons injured while working are almost always covered by workers' compensation insurance. If it becomes necessary to retain a lawyer to have the matter adjusted or settled by the Iowa Industrial Commission the deputy commissioner can set the fee to be paid the injured person’s lawyer by the insurer.
Dissolution of Marriage
Unfortunately, dissolution of marriages, or divorces, have become almost as frequent as marriages. Lawyers and their clients may agree upon any fee arrangement. However, many women who sue for a dissolution have no money to pay their lawyer. In such cases, the husband may be required to pay the wife’s attorney. The judge will determine the amount to be paid and perhaps order it paid in specified installments. Where the parties have a high earning capacity, or where there is a significant amount of property involved, or if, for any reason, it appears that an unusual amount of legal work, time or responsibility is involved, higher fees may be awarded.
The ISBA Find-A-Lawyer Service is a directory provided by The Iowa State Bar Association to assist its members and the public in locating an attorney. All lawyers listed are members of the ISBA. The Iowa State Bar Association does not recommend or endorse the services of those listed, nor does the omission of others from this directory imply a negative assessment, or any evaluation or recommendation whatsoever. Nothing in this directory should be relied upon as legal advice. The information on these pages has been supplied by the persons and firms listed, and The Iowa State Bar Association has not reviewed, investigated, or evaluated the accuracy or completeness of the information, or qualifications or competency of those listed. The Iowa State Bar Association, and its members, and employees hereby disclaim any responsibility or liability claimed to have arisen from reliance upon the information contained in the Find-A-Lawyer directory.
Neither The Iowa State Bar Association nor any agency of the State Bar has certified any lawyer identified here as a specialist or as an expert.