Free Legal Consultation: Hourly Rate or Fixed Fee? - Priori

Free Legal Consultation: Hourly Rate or Fixed Fee?

By Vincent DiForte
| Legal Industry

Choosing the right lawyer is not an easy task, and one of the many benefits of conducting your lawyer search through Priori Legal is having a guaranteed free legal consultation. Your free legal consultation is not only an opportunity to become better acquainted with your potential lawyer, but also for the lawyer to get to know you and your legal issue. To ensure that you get the most out of your 30 minutes, we put together a blog series of important questions you'll want to ask a lawyer during your free legal consultation.

In choosing a lawyer, as with any important decision for your business, cost ranks high on your list of considerations. Here, we are going to provide a basic explanation of how lawyers establish the price for their services, the two most common fee structures and how to assess which is right for you.

Prepare for your Free Legal Consultation

When preparing for your free legal consultation, it’s important to set the tone by being knowledgeable and professional. View this as the start of a mutually beneficial relationship. With respect to costs, this means don't drive a hard bargain for discounted rates during your initial consultation. Instead, discuss the legal matter first, and then negotiate a pay structure that works for both parties.

Lawyers will typically give better rates to a clients with whom they foresee building long-term relationship. Therefore, in your free legal consultation present yourself as a potentially valuable client--someone looking for a lawyer to handle all the legal services for their business. This may enable you to get a discounted rate, but more importantly, it will help you find a lawyer who wants to get to know your business and its legal needs.

The Cost of Legal Services

While lawyers consider a significant number of factors in establishing their market rates, four of the most important are:

  1. Firm Size - According to a recent survey, firm size is the most influential factor in determining lawyer billing rates. Irrespective of geography, practice area, or type of work, larger firms reported consistently charging higher rates than smaller firms. This means that clients often pay a higher hourly rate for the work of a junior associate at a big firm than an experienced partner at a small firm.
  2. Location - It's no secret that lawyers pass along costs to clients. In fact, the billable-hour system is built on that premise. As a result, cities with higher cost of living, such as New York and San Francisco, create more expensive rates for lawyers. Today, technology makes it easier for clients and lawyers to find and work with one another remotely. Some businesses reduce legal fees by hiring with a lawyer outside their area.
  3. Experience - A lawyer's rate is closely tied to level of experience, with more experience equating to a higher rate. Although a lawyer's rate may be higher because they have more experience, this does not necessarily mean that hiring that lawyer will amount to greater costs for you. Having a lawyer who has handled a matter similar to yours, may allow them to work through the matter quicker and more efficiently, saving you time and money.
  4. Practice Area - Certain legal matters present greater complexity, which means more time and energy. Ultimately, this means a greater cost for legal matters of a higher complexity. For example, a lawyer's rate for a complex commercial litigation might be much greater in comparison to one for drafting a will.

Although legal services are not one-size-fits-all, going into your free legal consultation with an understanding what factors influence a lawyer's rate will ensure that you make an informed and cost-conscious decision in choosing the lawyer you work with.

Hourly Rate v. Fixed Fee?

Hourly rates

Hourly rates are still the most common fee structure that lawyers use to charge clients. With an hourly rate, lawyers charge a client a certain price for each hour of work conducted for that client. Typically lawyers track their work by the tenth of an hour or every six minutes.

Questions to ask: In your free legal consultation, if your lawyer informs you that your matter would fall under hourly rates, ask what the hourly rate is and how long the matter will take. In addition, you should inquire further about what the hourly rate includes. Does the hourly rate apply to work conducted by other staff (law clerks, paralegals, and secretaries)? Is it the same hourly fee for all tasks? Or does legal research and in court time have different hourly rates? Does the hourly rate include any relevant filing fees or other disbursement estimates?

Setting clear expectations at the outset of a representation is critical to eliminating unexpected costs later. Don't blindly gravitate towards, only to find out later that it took that attorney three times as long or didn't include additional expensive


Continuously rising hourly rates are causing both lawyers and clients alike to look for alternative ways to structure their fees. Now over 80% of law firm leaders believe that non-hourly billing has become a permanent fixture in the legal community.

Fixed fee packages, which were once only considered a viable option for well-defined issues, are now being offered for a wide-array of legal matters. Lawyers who offer fixed fee packages charge a client a set amount of money for specified matter.

Advantage: This enables a client to have a clearer expectation of how much legal cost they will incur per matter. For lawyers, fixed fees allow them to cut down on time-consuming administrative tasks such as keeping track of their hours and chasing down clients to pay their bills.

Pay attention to: Clients still need to be wary of what a fixed fee packages include. Often in a fixed fee package, lawyers will not include the filing fee costs, which in some instances can run in the thousands. During your free legal consultation it is important to ask the lawyer specifically what is included in the fixed fee matter and what other uncovered fees you should expect.

How Should You Pay?

Although we can't tell you how much your legal matter should cost, going into your free legal consultation with the above knowledge will ensure that you are prepared to get quality legal service for a reasonable price.

At Priori, we work with attorneys to more accurately predict how long a certain matter will take. That way, the right parties are bearing the risk, and small businesses can accurately budget for their legal expenditures. Prior to a free legal consultation, our clients see a lawyer's Priori Rate (pre-negotiated 25% discount of a lawyer's normal hourly rate) and detailed chart of the relevant flat fee packages that attorney offers (complete with what the package includes and excludes).

You can learn more about how Priori brings transparent and predictable pricing to legal here, or find the right lawyer for your legal needs and set up a free legal consultation


Photo Credit: fteleaders via Compfight cc

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