All About Legal Fees
How much is this going to cost me? This is one of the most common questions people have when they walk into a lawyer's office. What makes this question hard to answer (and why most lawyers do not post fee schedules on the door) is that legal services are fundamentally different from the other goods and services people purchase on a day-to-day basis. When you are having your teeth cleaned, for example, there is nobody standing in the room interfering with your dentist. By contrast, in the legal realm, there is often an opposing party who is actively trying to prevent you achieving your legal goals.
This distinction exists by necessity. The judicial system in South Dakota is designed to help resolve legal disputes. If you are charged with a crime, the dispute is between you and the State. If you are involved in a lawsuit, the dispute is usually between you and another individual. Even if you need a simple will, lease, or contract, there will be third parties who's interests differ from your own. The problem with accurately predicting costs for legal services in all of these cases stems from the fact that you and your lawyer only control half of process. The more work the opposing side does, the more work you and your lawyer may have to do.
Estimating legal expenses is not impossible, however. Many lawyers in South Dakota calculate legal fees based on an hourly billing rate. At the time of this writing (2018), such rates are known to vary from around $125 to over $300 per hour depending on the lawyer and the nature of the legal problem. Simple, misdemeanor, criminal matters, plea agreements, and uncontested civil proceedings may require only a few hours of an attorney's time. By contrast, complex civil litigation can consume hundreds (or even thousands) of hours, particularly if the case goes to trial.
To offset this uncertainty, some lawyers now offer “flat rate” billing for simple transactions such as wills or uncontested divorces. They may also be able to offer contingent fees for personal injury matters, where the fee is based on the amount of your final recovery. Flat rates and contingent fees do not necessarily guarantee a lower cost when compared to hourly billing, but they often make it easier for the client to plan his finances.
In the end, each legal matter is unique. If you feel you need legal counsel but are concerned about fees, the best thing you can do call us and ask. Although exact predictions are often impossible, once we know your specific facts, and what you want to accomplish, we can usually give you enough information about the costs you will face to allow you to plan accordingly.