Attorney Client Fee Agreements – Flat-Fees or Hourly Billing

The following article addresses two types of fee arrangements for legal services in criminal law – the flat-fee and hourly billing. The central questions to be considered are whether one type is better than the other, when is it better, and why is it better.


An attorney is required to have a fee agreement in place when an attorney-client relationship is formed, or soon thereafter. In criminal cases, there are generally two types of billing methods available to govern fee agreements – flat-fee and hourly billing. Contingency fee agreements are prohibited in all criminal cases; therefore, an attorney cannot be paid based on the outcome of a defendant’s criminal case.


The flat-fee is a fee agreement which compensates an attorney for all legal services for a specific matter or a specific phase of a matter, regardless of the amount of time involved, for example $2,500.00 for all pretrial proceedings in a drunk driving case.


The attractive characteristic of the flat-fee is that it’s fixed and does not change. Therefore, for a fixed sum, a client has complete representation for a specific pending legal matter. After all, one never knows when a case may drag out, having the case prolonged, while legal fees continue to mount.

However, most attorneys who use flat-fee agreements are well aware of how long a case will take and set their fees accordingly. So even if a case has taken a bit longer than expected, chances are that attorney has still made a small profit. But when a case ends quickly, that attorney has made a huge profit.

In sum, if you think that your case will drag on, it may be wise to enter into a flat-fee agreement. But remember, if you’re not an attorney, can you be confident that your case is going to lengthy?


Hourly billing fee agreements compensate an attorney for his or her legal services on an hourly basis, for example $200.00 per hour.


In my opinion, the hourly billing fee agreement is better than the flat-fee arrangement because it is fairer in that you get what you pay for. However, this assumes that the client is well aware of the time commitment involved, and the level of legal expertise needed. Two rather big assumptions that are not likely to be met unless the client is himself or herself an attorney.

The problem with the hourly billing fee agreement is that there are a few attorneys out there, and you know who you are, that will charge their clients unscrupulously. They tack on extra hours knowing that the client could not and would not complain. Most individuals simply are not familiar with the average costs and fees of similarly situated cases.


In conclusion, the best course of action is to find an honest attorney, someone who will charge you fairly for legal services regardless of whether the fee agreement is a flat-fee or by hourly billing. Do your homework and check out your prospective attorney. Get a referral from a close friend who has retained that attorney before or who will “vouch” for that attorney’s integrity.

May 13, 2003 by Quincy Hoang.


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