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Different Fee Agreements Explained

Lawyers use several different types of fee agreements, which can sometimes be confusing.  This entry will discuss the fee agreements that we use at Spigle, Massey & Clay.

  1. Flat Fee

A flat fee agreement involves a one time, up-front payment of the agreed upon amount, which will satisfy all legal fees for the given issue.  Clients often find this type of fee agreement useful because there are no additional fees later in the representation.  We typically use a flat fee agreement for traffic tickets and less complex criminal and civil cases.

  1. Retainer Agreement w/Hourly Rate

This type of fee agreement involves an up-front payment of an agreed upon amount, called a retainer, which is then billed against the attorney’s hourly rate as the attorney puts time into the case.  The retainer amount for a specific case is often established by estimating the amount of time the case may require (of course, depending on how the case develops, the time required of the case is subject to change).  If the retainer amount has not been exhausted when the case is concluded, all unused amounts are returned to the client.  Conversely, the client will be responsible for additional fees if the retainer has been exhausted but the case has not concluded.  Our firm provides ample notice to the client ahead of time if it appears the retainer amount will be exhausted before case conclusion.

Our firm typically uses this type of fee agreement with domestic relations cases and more complex criminal defense cases.

  1. Contingent Fee

A contingent fee agreement is used only in personal injury cases.  Payment of any attorneys’ fees is “contingent” on the client receiving compensation in the case, whether that be accomplished by an out-of-court settlement or a court judgment.  This means there are no attorney’s fees unless you receive compensation.  The amount of attorneys’ fees is a percentage of the total recovery, which is agreed upon with the client at the outset of representation.  This percentage may be lower if the case is settled without having to go to trial.


If you have any questions about these fee agreements or which agreement may be best for your case, please contact us today.