Bridging the Gap


In Maryland and nationwide, the cost of legal services is often dauntingly expensive. This is par for a financial climate where the cost of high-tech hardware, software, research resources, insurance, experienced and trained staff, taxes, and other operating expenses are on the constant rise. But the client and the attorney are entering into a relationship of trust and together they can make sure that the topic of legal fees does not interfere in securing an effective outcome.

To understand a lawyer’s fee arrangement, a short primer is necessary. There are generally four ways  a lawyer’s fees are paid. They are:

  • Hourly – This is a common method; the rates may run the gamut, depending on various factors. There may be a down payment, and hourly bills sent to the client periodically.
  • Retainer – The attorney accepts a sum up front to seal the deal. It may be fully earned and non-refundable or it may be unearned and reduced by hourly billing against it. When this fund begins to run low, the attorney may ask the client to replenish it.
  • Fixed flat fee – This applies to a standard task for a particular representation.  Advance payment is usually required.
  • Contingency — The lawyer receives nothing unless there is a recovery, at which time the lawyer receives a percentage of the recovery. This applies in personal injury cases, for example.

Regarding contracts, estate planning, probate, estate administration, and commercial and business law, the fees may not be as imposing as in complex litigation matters, but they can present an obstacle. Leaving aside the complicated financing tools sometimes used in complex litigation, this article discusses options clients have to pay their legal fees.


Where the small business client has sufficient operating capital or an existing substantial line of credit, the client may use its own funds to pay the requested fees. Many attorneys accept credit cards.  This is a convenient and appropriate method to pay your legal fees. Where an individual has no credit card or insufficient credit, an option is a personal loan. Success on obtaining a personal loan will depend on your credit score.  You may also consider an equity loan on your home. There is a wealth of information available on the internet regarding loans for this purpose.

Where a business client’s cash flow is challenged, the owner may ask the attorney for a payment plan if available. The same arrangements can apply to individuals. An example of a payment plan is where 50 percent is paid upfront, followed by payment in full 30 to 60 days later. Lawyers who themselves are business owners have budgetary pressures, and payment plans may not be feasible at times. Each case, however, is evaluated individually by looking at different factors and options will vary by firm. The takeaways are that: 1) clients have several funding options and 2) honest communication can bridge the divide between the client and attorney as it relates to the payment of legal fees.

If you or your business are in need of legal representation in Maryland, the Law Offices of Elsa W. Smith, LLC is ready to assist you. We invite you to review the firm’s practice areas  and contact us to request a consultation today.