Lawyers may use several different fee structures, depending on the type of work required and the particular lawyer or law firm. Generally, there are no set fees for legal services. Factors that affect legal fees include things like the experience of the lawyer, the amount of time required, the complexity of the matter, the amount of money or property that is involved, and whether or not the matter goes to court. Under the Code of Professional Conduct, which governs lawyers, all fees and disbursements must be fair and reasonable and billed to the client in a timely fashion.
Lawyers may charge an hourly rate. Hourly rates will vary from lawyer to lawyer depending on several factors. In addition to the lawyer's experience and the complexity of the legal matter, their office overhead and the amount other local lawyers are charging for similar matters may also affect their hourly rate.
It may not be possible for a lawyer to estimate how many hours it will take to deal with the matter at hand. Many factors can be out of their control. However, lawyers must track and record their time. If you are paying your lawyer an hourly rate you may want to discuss how often you will be billed and how detailed the bill will be. This can help you keep on top of your legal costs and how your matter is progressing.
For some transactions, lawyers may choose to charge on a fee-for-service basis rather than an hourly rate. This is sometimes called a flat fee. Matters such as land transactions, simple will preparations and debt collections are frequently billed in this fashion. When determining their fee for legal work in these areas, lawyers may base their fee on a percentage of the value of the property or debt.
There are times when a lawyer will agree to work on a contingency basis. This means that instead of charging on an hourly basis, the lawyer will take a percentage of the settlement received. This type of agreement is sometimes made when a client would not otherwise be able to afford to pay a lawyer. Under this arrangement, lawyers generally agree to take 20-50% of any money that is awarded to their client. If the client isn’t awarded any money, the lawyer will not receive any legal fees, but the client will usually be responsible for payment of any disbursements. Contingency agreements must be reasonable and set out in a written agreement. The agreement must be signed by both the client and the lawyer.
In addition to legal fees, a lawyer's bill will typically include disbursements. Disbursements are expenses that must be paid in the course of dealing with the matter at hand. For example, clients must generally pay for any long distance phone calls that must be made, as well as the cost of filing or registering documents regardless of the fee arrangement.
Legal fees payable to a lawyer representing the Executor or Administrator of an estate are set out in the Rules of Court. The rules indicate the maximum amount a lawyer can charge for services directly related to the administration of the estate. For more information about legal fees related to estate matters see Estate Costs - Legal Fees.
It is possible that a lawyer will ask for a retainer before doing any legal work. This is common practice in the legal profession. Generally speaking, money that a lawyer is given in advance must be placed in a trust account and may later be used toward payment of fees or disbursements owing.
If you have received legal services, you may not understand an item on your legal bill or feel overcharged. In this case, you should go back to the lawyer and ask for an explanation.
Lawyers keep close track of the time spent on each matter and should be able to tell you the precise reason for the cost. If you are still not satisfied, you may want to have your bill “assessed”. This means asking a court official to go over the bill to see if the charges are appropriate. In Saskatchewan, The Legal Profession Act states that an application to have the bill assessed must be made to the court within 30 days after delivery of the bill. Under special circumstances the court may waive this limitation. An assessment package, including FAQ’s and forms, is available from the Law Society of Saskatchewan.