There are a number of ways that a lawyer may charge for services. Some lawyers bill by the hour and charge for everything including writing letters, answering e-mails or making phone calls as well as court appearances. Any client who is paying a lawyer by the hours should expect to see a detailed itemized statement each time they receive a bill. If you are paying a lawyer by the hour and not receiving a detailed itemized statement my advice to you is to get the detailed statement.
Other lawyers may charge a one-time payment or flat fee. This arrangement is more usual in a criminal case. In these instances the lawyer agrees to handle the matter for a one-time payment which is usually non-refundable.
Even in flat fee cases, the lawyer and client may agree that the fee covers a certain time period or up to a certain hearing. For example a lawyer may charge a certain fee through the preliminary hearing but that fee does not cover any services after the preliminary hearing such as the filing of pre-trial motions or trial.
Since most criminal cases are settled without a trial it is common for lawyers to bill for handling a criminal matter but not including a fee for trial.
Contingent fees are normally charged in personal injury cases. In a contingent fee the lawyer agrees to handle the entire matter for a percentage of the settlement or verdict. This percentage can vary from lawyer to lawyer and even be dependent upon the type of case. The advantage to the client in a contingent fee case is that unless the lawyer successfully settles the case or obtains a verdict, the client does not pay a legal fee.
Costs are usually added even in contingent fee cases. Where the costs will be more than a few hundred dollars, the lawyer will normally consult with the client before impairing those costs. These expenses include things such as expert witnesses, investigators or other specialists that are required to assist in the case. Normally in a contingent fee case, the lawyer pays the costs up front and then asks the client for reimbursement when the matter is successfully concluded. The costs are in addition to the contingent fee percentage.
If at any time a client has a question about the fee the client should feel free to discuss that matter openly and honestly with the lawyer.