becoming familiar with new and changing laws, at-
SHOULD I ASK THE LAWYER WHAT THE
tending continuing legal education courses, perform-
A lawyer is a professional who is specially trained and
FEE IS UPFRONT?
ing administrative duties, participating in bar-related
licensed to explain and interpret the law for clients, rep-
You should discuss the cost of legal services
activities, and volunteering in legal and community
resent clients in legal matters, and appear in court on
during the first interview with the lawyer. The law-
their behalf. Although much of a lawyer's work involves
yer may not be able to determine the exact amount
counseling clients and preparing documents, a lawyer is
of time and effort required to handle your case, but
2. Ability, Experience, and Reputation. Law
foremost an advocate on behalf of his/her clients.
should be able to give you an estimate based upon
school training combined with professional legal ex-
past experience. Sometimes a lawyer may quote a
perience constitutes a lawyer's legal education. If your
WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR A LEGAL FEE?
total charge for the work for the estimated time re-
lawyer possesses stronger experience or skills in one
Abraham Lincoln once emphasized the value of
quired on a particular matter.
area of the law, a higher fee may be charged be-
a lawyer's time when he said, "A lawyer's advice is
You should never hesitate to discuss fees at any
cause those specific services are in special demand.
his stock in trade." A lawyer's professional skill is
time while the lawyer is handling your legal matter.
expressed through the time spent to develop a solu-
If you receive a statement and believe the fee isn't
3. The Results Achieved. In some cases, the re-
tion to a client's legal problem, which is the basis for
appropriate, talk it over with your lawyer. Usually,
sult itself may determine the fee. For example, a law-
any fee charged by a lawyer. Much of the work ac-
misunderstandings about fees result because the cli-
yer may be entitled to a percentage of the award.
complished by a lawyer is done when you, the client,
ent is unaware of the extent of the lawyer's work
are not present. You may be unaware that the four-
on the case.
4. The Contingency Agreement. In personal in-
page document and advice given by your lawyer in
This is by no means the client's fault. Clients
jury cases, the lawyer receives no fee unless money
just a few minutes are actually the products of train-
who do not regularly see a lawyer may understand-
is recovered for the client. If money is recovered,
ing, skill and many hours of work. Also keep in mind
ably believe that the activities of the lawyer are lim-
the lawyer is paid a percentage of that amount. In
that when you engage the services of a lawyer, you
ited only to those evident. It is always a good idea to
Maryland, this percentage will vary depending upon
are hiring an entire law office to work for you. Asso-
obtain copies of all documents and correspondence
the amount recovered, the area of the state and the
ciate attorneys, paralegals and legal secretaries will
pertaining to your case. Then, if you have any ques-
complexity of the case. However, you can still be
all have a hand in your legal matter.
tions about the fee, it is the lawyer's obligation to
responsible for all costs. When no contingency fee
Since no two legal situations are exactly alike,
arrangement has been made, the lawyer will expect
the lawyer's fee will be based upon the factors in-
to be paid whether you win or lose the case. Always
volved in your particular case. After you have dis-
WHEN MUST LEGAL FEES BE PAID?
keep in mind that your lawyer cannot guarantee the
cussed the facts of your legal matter with the lawyer,
The time for payment of legal fees depends upon
outcome of any court proceeding. You may also be
ask them to give you an estimate of the fee.
the type of legal service provided. In many cases,
required to reimburse the lawyer for any actual ex-
your lawyer may require an advance payment, fre-
penses paid from office funds for items such as long
HOW IS THE FEE COMPUTED?
quently referred to as a retainer, before agreeing to
distance telephone calls, investigators, medical reports
A lawyer usually computes a fee based upon an
undertake the work. Some retainers are required
hourly rate. The rates will vary, depending upon the
only to assure the lawyer's availability, but most are
experience and expertise of the lawyer, the circum-
considered as credit against services to be performed
5. Operating Expenses and Overhead. The cost
stances and complexity of the case and where you
or will be applied to costs incurred from your legal
of operating the average law office - including rent,
are located. A lawyer may consider the following el-
matter. Charges for services rendered which aren't
equipment, law libraries, supplies, professional and
ements when computing a fee:
covered by the retainer should be paid upon receipt.
nonprofessional staff, and insurance - amounts to
If you believe that you will not be able to pay the
nearly 50 percent of the gross annual income derived
1. Time. Time is the basic element in determining a
legal fees promptly, discuss this with your lawyer.
from legal fees; therefore, a large portion of the fees
fee, making a lawyer's time very valuable. While
You may be able to arrange a payment schedule.
charged goes to overhead costs.
many lawyers spend more than eight to ten hours per
day on legal matters, much of a lawyer's time is spent
WHAT ARE THE STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
8. Discuss the financial advantages or disadvantages
of a proposed legal action with the lawyer. For ex-
Lawyers are subject to the highest degree of
ample, would the court costs and legal fees be greater
ethical conduct under the Maryland Rules of
than the amount that would be recovered if a legal
Professional Conduct adopted by the Court of
action was pursued?
This brochure has been prepared by the Maryland State Bar
Appeals of Maryland. If you believe your lawyer
Association's Public Awareness Committee. It is intended to
has violated disciplinary rules, you may contact the
inform the public and not serve as legal advice.
Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland to
review the lawyer ’s ethical conduct. The
Other Available Brochures:
Commission may be reached at (410) 514-7051 or
(800) 492-1660 within Maryland and on the Web
So, You've Received a Traffic Ticket
Being a Witness
When You Need a Lawyer
WHAT CAN I DO TO REDUCE LEGAL
Rights of Landlords and Tenants
What to Do in Case of an Auto Accident
Wills and Estates
1. Write down the names, addresses and telephone
Divorce and Separation
numbers of all persons involved in your legal matter,
Appointing a Guardian
as well as all the facts pertaining to your case. Doing
this yourself will reduce the amount of time the law-
Your Legal Rights if Arrested
yer must spend gathering the information.
Nursing Home Admission Contracts in Maryland
Domestic Violence: You Can Live Without It
Employees' Rights in the Workplace
2. Take any papers relating to your legal matter to
Health Benefits: What Are Your Options?
the first interview with the lawyer.
Divorce and Custody Mediation
Foreclosure Proceedings in Maryland
3. Be as brief as possible in all interviews with the
HIV and the Law
lawyer without leaving out any of the facts.
Should I File for Bankruptcy?
Alternatives to Nursing Home Placement
4. Be as accurate as possible when relaying the facts
Entering a Franchise Agreement
of your legal matter to the lawyer.
Filing for Workers' Compensation
Buying a Home
5. Make sure you honestly and completely disclose
Lawyers and Legal Fees
School Law in Maryland
all the facts of your legal matter to the lawyer, whether
they are good or bad. This is essential in determining
how the lawyer will proceed with your legal matter,
and the lawyer will keep it in strictest confidence.
Published as a public service by:
6. Avoid unnecessary telephone calls to the lawyer.
7. Obtain legal advice before signing documents or
Maryland State Bar Association
taking legal action; then, follow the lawyer's advice.
The Maryland Bar Center
©1986 MSBA, Inc. Revised 2002, 2005
520 West Fayette Street
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form
Baltimore, MD 21202
without written permission from the Maryland State Bar Association, Inc.