How are Attorneys Paid in Washington?

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How are Attorneys Paid in Washington?
Written By: Josh Lowell ~ 8/15/2022


Court costs can be expensive on their own. Hundreds of dollars for filing fees and service of process expenses. Perhaps thousands of dollars for expert witnesses and depositions. Attorney fees are an added cost that should be considered in every scenario but are often necessary to properly manage your case. How do attorneys charge for their time in Washington state?

It depends on the type of case.

Personal Injury

Case involving an injury to an innocent party are considered Personal Injury claims. Most typically, these involve car accidents, medical malpractice, dog bites, and slip and fall situations. In these cases, attorneys do not typically charge on an hourly basis. Rather, they charge what is commonly referred to as a contingency fee.

Personal Injury attorneys’ fees are contingent upon winning. The industry standard for a personal injury claim is about 1/3rd of the gross settlement or judgment. Often, these fees will increase in the event a claim must be litigated. Similarly, claims of medical malpractice or cases where the claim is more complicated or tenuous are often charged at higher rates. In these subsequent cases, attorney fees between 40% and 50% are common.

If you and your attorney can settle your case without filing a lawsuit, the attorney will take their fee from the gross settlement. If you go to trial and lose, however, the attorney fee is typically $0 because the gross judgment was nothing. Attorneys take on contingency fees to help their clients pursue justice. There is significant risk to working hundreds of hours on a case that might earn no fee, so these rates are rarely negotiable.

Hourly Retainer

The vast majority of legal work is paid on an hourly retainer. Essentially, the client pays a down-payment to the law firm. The attorneys and staff then charge an hourly rate to perform work each month. These hours are then calculated and reduced from the down-payment each month.

The hourly rate will depend on the type of case, experience of the attorney, and the location of the firm. An inexperienced attorney and law firms in less populated areas will likely charge a lower rate. Experienced partners and high-profile law firms in the city will likely charge a higher rate. Most commonly, rates are found between $250 and $500 per hour.

Retainers also depend highly on the case and attorney. They are often based on the anticipated scope of work. If a case is expected to only take three to five hours, the firm may only request sufficient funds to cover that likely expenditure. If a matter is highly contested or is expected to require substantial work, then the retainer is likely to be higher. Retainers between $2,500 and $15,000 are not uncommon for typical work and may be much higher for corporate or complex litigation.

Flat Fees

Attorneys may agree to charge a flat fee for a case if they know that the case will follow a certain procedure. Oftentimes, uncontested divorces and non-felony criminal matters are charged on flat fees because the process is uncomplicated and typically has few outliers. Law firms can estimate the average time of these cases and charge a flat fee to provide clients a sense of comfort that fees won’t be exorbitant.

Hiring the Right Attorney is Worth the Cost

Sometimes, the cheapest attorney might not be the best suited for your case. Similarly, downtown, high profile litigators may be great attorneys, but their costs may outweigh the benefits you receive as experienced attorney are likely found with fewer costs outside the city. At Magnuson Lowell PS, we evaluate each case individually to best find payment situations that work for our clients. Call today for a free case evaluation.

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