The Outrageous Hourly Rates of Attorneys

Finally, the government is looking into the outrageous fees that attorney's charge clients for their help. What prompted this were the recent motions submitted by firms in a bankruptcy case for attorney fees. The judge also flipped when he saw $1000\hr fees being charged to clients. It is about time attorneys are regulated in the fees they charge. Yes, we all know it is specialized knowledge, but many self-help books solve the similar issues. Many paralegals are equal in legal knowledge of attorneys in Family Law, Evictions, simple bankruptcy, Wills and other legal areas. Many times what the attorney will do is charge you $200\hr and have the paralegal do most of the work for $25 hr. and the only thing he does is look it over and sign it. Attorneys will charge you even for a 10 minute consultation, so at a rate of $200 an hour, they charge around $30 for this 10 minute call. Odds are, you will not get a lot resolved in that time.

Why are attorney fees so high? Because there is no regulation agency overlooking them. Most attorneys want payback for the years of going to law school, so they overvalue their services on people who really cannot afford them, yet have no other choice. Some are unethical and use legalese to scare you during a consultation by being vague, when all along, they know from experience, the situation will most likely not occur. Why do attorney's charge thousands to go to court? Because they actually have to make an appearance. That is what they claim, so you $1500 for them to go to a hearing that might last less than 10 minutes, or if a trial, considerable time. If the latter is the case, the more likely cost is $5000. But again, most of the work is done by paralegals and investigators, all being paid far less than whatever the attorney is making. Even some of the legal research is done by paralegals and many are equal to those of attorneys. Legal research is skill learned by both and knowing where to find law relating to your own case. Attorneys usually tend not to trust anyone else doing legal research for motions and such.

Like any career, even law has its routine situations where boilerplate forms are spit out from the computer, blanks filled in. All done by clerical or paralegals and the attorney simply signs his name. There are many boilerplate motions used that are tweaked to fit a specific case, that once one has done them, no great skill is needed. There are many of these types in all areas of the law and in these cases, the attorney acts as a reviewer, signs it, and has their staff file it with the court.

But, an attorney who charges $1000 an hour should be investigated and reprimanded. I would say even those charging more than $200 an hour are not earning this. They are just ripping you off and they can get away with it. No different than a VW mechanic at a dealership earning $120 hr. In this case, the mechanic makes $30 hr. and the dealer gets the rest.


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Comments 15 comments

JGoul profile image

JGoul 4 years ago

Some attorneys overcharge, but most make far less than you would think. Some of those who charge seemingly exorbitant rates do so because they are perceived to be at the top of their profession and their time is sufficiently in demand to bear the rates they charge. For those, the clients could go to more reasonably priced attorneys if they chose to do so.

In most areas, you will not see rates of $200 an hour from a run-of-the-mill, non-elite attorneys. As for paralegals doing much of the work, you're paying for the attorney's signature as much as for his time. He has a professional license, which requires approximately $200,000 and seven years of higher education to obtain. He has malpractice insurance, an office, a staff, and other overhead. He accepts liability exposure by signing your documents. This is similar to a doctor who signs a prescription for a diagnosis based on a test administered by a nurse.

To the extent this article purports to identify an industry wide problem as opposed to the bad practices of a handful of This article is largely the product of bad information and straw man arguments. Do some research; most attorneys are struggling mightily to make ends meet. They charge the least amount they can in order to attract their share of the diminishing number of clients, diminishing at least in comparison to the number of practicing attorneys (of which there is a MASSIVE oversupply). That brings me to the central point - there are far too many attorneys practicing today. Simple economics dictate that in such a situation, you will be paying LESS than what the service is "worth." Reviewing the levels of debt, depression, stress, suicide, substance abuse, and divorce among attorneys should leave no doubt that that is precisely what is happening.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 4 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

If the client has agreed to pay $1,000 an hour, what is the issue?

In this case where there was a bankruptcy involved someone hired these lawyers and presumably knew what they charged.

In the UK if a lawyer overcharges he can be disciplined by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

Both are good points. If the idiot is willing to pay $1000 an hour, fine. I just think there should be limits. Also, most law schools do not cost $200K, they cost anywhere from $50-80K, depending on the law school.But regardless of the school, they all teach the same course, all use the same sources for books, all have to pass the bar. Most go into this field with thoughts of getting rich and it is not uncommon to to $200 an hr. As a former paralegal, I know that in many practices, paralegals do most of the work, use a ton of boilerplate forms that once learned, can be filled out by anyone. The only thing the attorney does is review and sign. Then, bills the client $200 for what amounts to as 5-10 min. The paralegals, who do most of the paperwork get $25. Sorry, attorneys are greedy. Another great question is, when would a judge decide an attorney is charging excessively? The issue is subjective and filled with biases from all sides. That is why there is such a big market for DIY law. There are many instances that a laymen can easily do things themselves, but going to court, would not be one of them.


Angela Brummer profile image

Angela Brummer 4 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

If you need one they certainly want to know how much you are worth to begin with because that is what your final bill will be.


Larry Wall 4 years ago

Some attorneys lose touch with reality. At my office we had a defined benefit plan that was not managed properly and we were having to close it out--it is complicated and involved several groups. However, the attorney suggested that I talk to my fellow employees about giving up ALL FUTURE PAY RAISES so the plan could be saved. He then sent me a bill for $700 for making the suggestion. My co-workers and I voted the idea down. We took our payouts and opened IRAs.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

I can't agree more.


JGoul profile image

JGoul 4 years ago

Perrya, as a currently practicing attorney, I can tell you that you've lost touch with the state of the profession. There have been huge changes in recent years. The profitability has dminished dramatically. There is a ridiculous oversupply of attorneys, and no one can find work. Hourly rates of under $50 are increasingly common. And law school does not cost $50,000 for three years any more. You're looking at between $125,000 and $200,000, particularly once you factor in room and board.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

Thanks, but I really think it depends on geographics and going rates. An attorney for $50, maybe a law clerk, but no attorney I know or have dealt with has been less than $125 hr. If you are talking about solos with a tiny office, just passed the Bar, even then, I doubt it would $50 hr. As to law school, again, it matters whether it is a high end or low profile. For the money you speak of, you are getting a higher end school with a recognized name. There many regional law schools where for $50-75K, you get a law degree, work in the day, school at night. These schools teach exactly the same material. The high end schools simply sell their name. But I agree the field is overcrowded.


Larry Wall 4 years ago

JGoul, it depends on what kind of attorney you are looking for. To probate a will, handled an uncontested divorce maybe even an adoption, you might find a $50 lawyer. If it is a suit against someone for damages, the lawyer takes a percentage of the settlement, usually around 30 percent. In class action suits, the lawyers get more than the plaintiffs. You will not find good criminal lawyer for $50 a hour.

The lawyer, who is little more that the glorified notary public may only charge $50, but from my experience it is much more.

I had two paragraphs in my will changed and the price was $150 and the paralegal did all the work.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 4 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

I had someone try to get me to reduce my fee for an immigration hearing by saying that X on the other side of town charged only half my fee for a hearing.

I said "So use X"

"Oh no says the client. I want you."

He paid my fee and I won.

The lawyer can be worth every penny.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

Yes, of course. But, that does not mean that X would not also have won.


JGoul profile image

JGoul 4 years ago

I know how contingency fees work.

Paralegals may do good work in transactional matters. However, I've clerked for several judges, and I can tell you from experience: unless you're talking about an actual jury trial, the key to winning cases is arguing the case law. Trial judges care about one thing: protecting themselves on appeal. That requires a sharp analytical mind and a well honed sense for assessing and distinguishing cases. That's training you get in law school.

The difference between a good lawyer and a bad one is enormous. And yes, Charles' client might have won with a bad attorney. You're paying more because a good lawyer increases your CHANCES. Many people go to high priced doctors when they are diagnosed with cancer. There's no guarantee that a good dr will save them or that a bad one wouldn't. That extra money is paying for something that IS guaranteed - you'll have better odds of success when you are treated by someone who excels at their work.


perrya profile image

perrya 4 years ago Author

OK, makes sense. I am sure an attorney might adjust the fees depending on the clients income.


Charles James profile image

Charles James 4 years ago from Yorkshire, UK

In England we are allowed to charge extra for urgency and for unsocial hours and for importance to the client.

What is it worth to you that your wife is allowed to come to your country to live with you? Or that you do not go to prison for whayt you did/are accused of?


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 3 years ago from California

Have you checked out the cost of E/O for attorneys lately? If the premiums were not so high, you would see lower costs. Most attorneys make far less than you would think. If an attorney is charging that much money and a client has agreed to pay it, then it is the client who is driving the cost upward--attorneys charge according to expertise, to cover overhead and, according to what the market will bear.

Finally, an attorney's job can be grueling much of the time--in large firms, they often work 70-80 hours a week--trade places for a bit--it might change your perspective

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