Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Why Do Lawyers Charge Such Different Rates and Retainers?

BethSilverman | Cincinnati Divorce Lawyers - Family Law

As you begin the process of finding a lawyer to assist you in your case, you may notice that hourly rates and retainers vary from one lawyer to the next. Not only will you find a difference in rates between firms, but you will oftentimes find different rates for each lawyer within the same firm. After hearing a range of hourly rates and retainers, you may be scratching your head as to how lawyers set their retainer and hourly rates, and why these rates vary depending on the attorney.

First, it is important to understand the difference between a retainer and an attorney’s hourly rate. A lawyer’s hourly rate is the rate at which they bill per hour of work. A retainer is a sum of money the attorney holds in trust for their client. The attorney bills for their work at their hourly rate, taking money out of the retainer to pay this bill. If the retainer is exhausted, another retainer may be due for the attorney to continue their work. On the other hand, if a matter is resolved without having to exhaust the retainer, the remaining amount is refunded to the client.

An attorney sets their hourly rate based on a number of factors. The hourly rate of an attorney is based on the years of experience an attorney has in the legal field and the amount of experience an attorney has in their specific practice area, such as family law. An attorney will also look to the standard hourly rate for an attorney in the surrounding legal community with their level of experience and expertise. These factors result in each attorney’s rate being unique to their experience, expertise, and community’s standards.

Similar to hourly rates, the retainer that lawyers need to begin representation will vary. The first reason retainers vary is based on the case itself. The issues present in your case and the amount of time an attorney expects to take working on your case will affect the retainer needed. The more complex a case is, the more likely it is that a lawyer will need a higher retainer. Additionally, a retainer may vary depending on the hourly rate of the attorney. An attorney with more experience and expertise, and thus a higher hourly rate, may require a higher initial retainer to begin working on a case, with the reason being that a higher hourly rate will eat away at a retainer faster.

All in all, there are a variety of reasons why you may see different lawyers charging different hourly rates and retainers. The tenure and expertise of the attorney, the standard hourly rate in the community for attorneys of comparable skill level and experience, and the facts of your case may influence the hourly rate and retainer of an attorney.