A lawyer can easily demand $200 or $300 an hour to take your case. Or a lawyer may demand a 40% cut of any settlement you get. So if you are injured in an accident, your lawyer may get almost half of everything you are entitled to.
However, if you ask any lawyer, they may tell you that their costs are fair. In fact, they may lament that they are underpaid. Here's a look at some reasons lawyers charge what they do:
•Research and writing costs. If you only receive a one-page document or a pithy response to a legal question, you may wonder what you just paid for. However, the seemingly simple response that you get may be the result of hours upon hours of work researching all aspects of your legal issue. Lawyers have to use their expertise to explore every avenue and weigh every risk involved in a decision. As a result, the end product you see may not reflect all the behind-the-scenes considerations the attorney made in coming to a conclusion.
•Access to legal research tools. Most lawyers access cases, opinions, and statutes through the use of some online legal research tool like Westlaw (which, like FindLaw, is owned by Thomson Reuters). These tools can be extremely expensive, and a good portion of the bill you receive is simply to cover the costs of these services.
•Staffing and overhead costs. Someone needs to pay the secretary, the receptionist, and the rent. A lawyer determines her billing rate by prorating a broad array of overhead costs and personnel expenses -- anything needed to make a law firm run smoothly.
So how can you avoid these high hourly rates? You can try to take advantage of some lawyers' free consultations, but there's typically only so much you can discuss before your free time is up.
You may also want to consider signing up for a personal legal plan like LegalStreet. For less than $13 per month, LegalStreet offers unlimited phone consultations with local attorneys, along with legal document reviews (up to 10 pages each) and other services. If you eventually decide you need to hire a lawyer to represent you in a matter, LegalStreet members can also get discounted rates.
If you've already retained a lawyer, the best way to cut back on costs is to stay on top of things: Bring all necessary documents to your meetings and hearings, promptly reply to your lawyer's requests, and make a list of questions to ask all at once. Time is money, especially when it comes to lawyers, so make sure you spend it wisely.