Attorney fees are like wages; they are a charge for the time and labor of attorneys and their staff, such as paralegals. Fees do not include certain out-of-pocket costs (case costs) that are incurred as part of a legal case. Case costs are expenses on third parties — i.e., people other than the lawyers.
Attorney fees are straightforward: they are paid to the lawyer or law firm for the time of their staff. Usually this is based on an hourly fee. Sometimes lawyers agree to a fixed fee when the cases are cookie-cutter. For example, drafting a will takes roughly the same amount of time and lawyers can re-use their templates. Some lawyers also take up cases based on a contingency fee, when they only get paid if they win a settlement for the client.
Examples of case costs that are different from attorney fees include:
- Reimbursing experts for depositions, including their time, hotel stay and transportation
- Bail and bonds
- Court filing fees
- Postage and courier fees
- Costs for photocopying documents
For civil cases, costs can range anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars in a case where no lawsuit is filed, to tens of thousand dollars for cases that must be brought before a jury.
Often these costs are paid by lawyers during the course of the case and later reimbursed by the client.
Some lawyers work on a contingent basis, usually when they are suing for damages. In such cases, the agreement is that the attorney fees is payable only if the client wins the lawsuit. The fees range from 25% to 40% of the settlement amount. However, whether this covers case costs or not depends upon the contract signed by the client when they hire the lawyer. Usually the client is required to reimburse the attorney for case costs regardless if the outcome is successful or not.