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Why Are Lawyers So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)


Businessman in suit or lawyer working on a documents.


Whether you are hiring a lawyer to sue someone, protect you from the law, or draft a contract, it can be expensive.

Lawyers will often charge $200 or more an hour for their legal services.

Depending on how much help you need, it can end up costing you thousands of dollars.

Knowing why lawyers are so expensive will help you determine whether you need to spend the money or not.


Why Are Lawyers So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)

Smiling lawyer portrait


Lawyers are expensive, and there’s usually no getting around it.

At least knowing why they’re expensive will help you to swallow the costs.

At the very least, you can find out if you actually need to spend the money on legal services.


1. Law School Costs

Law student.


The only way to legally practice law is if someone has both a law degree AND has passed the bar exam.

It is an expensive process to obtain a law degree.

The average lawyer attends a four-year college, working to obtain a degree in something like economics, political science, business, or history.

Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree, students apply to law school.

Most students will spend three years in law school.

At this point, students have taken seven years of higher education coursework.

Depending on the schools that one attends, this can add up to well over $100,000.

Even after seven years of school, there’s still the bar exam.

This can require months of prep, prep classes, and late nights of studying.

Attending a four-year college will cost upwards of $60,000, assuming that there are dormitory fees included.

Then, law school will cost another $80,000 or more.

It’s not uncommon for law students to have spent $140,000 or more by the time they have passed the bar and can begin practicing law.

In many instances, it is considerably more.

The reason is the desire to attend a premium law school.

Those who attend better schools are more likely to be hired by the best firms, and the best and most reputable firms can charge more.

Even being hired by the best law firm means that student loans have to be paid off.

To do that, they need to charge quite a bit of money.


2. Reputation

lawyer working on a laptop


Lawyers have to work hard to prove that they can handle different cases.

In order to build a reputation, it requires clients.

Getting clients requires marketing as well as discussing past client outcomes.

It’s hard to sell yourself as a personal injury lawyer if you can’t share statistics.

How much have you gotten for past clients?

“Oh, well, I haven’t had any past clients.”

You can see how that would be difficult.

Many lawyers have to start working for close to nothing.

It allows them to build that experience.

While they’re offering their services for less than the competition, they still have overhead and other expenses to contend with.

It often means that lawyers who are just starting are incurring a significant amount of debt.

Building a reputation can take time.

In addition to building a client base, it also requires other expenses.

This includes a website to collect potential clients and marketing.

Many law firms advertise, so marketing can be expensive to compete with the other firms.

All it takes is one bad case to harm a lawyer’s reputation.

This can cost money to overcome.

Online marketers can work to wipe out the press so that it doesn’t show up in Google searches.

It may also take a lot of pro bono work as a way to rebuild a reputation.

It can show that the firm is capable of doing what they say they are going to do.


3. Multiple Lawyers Are Typically Involved

Smiling group of diverse businesspeople going over paperwork together


In a lot of cases, it’s not just one lawyer working on a case.

Particularly when it’s a case that involves corporate law or it’s high-profile, there is an entire team of lawyers working on the case.

Each lawyer involved has to be paid for their time.

This means that, instead of being billed hourly for one lawyer, you’re billed hourly for every lawyer on the team.

If the bill rate is $200 per hour, don’t assume that’s what you will pay.

You’ll need to find out how many lawyers are involved.

You’ll be billed $200 per hour per lawyer.

If you have five lawyers on your team, that could be a rate of $1,000 per hour.

Every time they meet to discuss your case, you could be getting billed.

There are lawyers and junior lawyers on many cases.

There may also be paralegals and other “experts” who need to be paid.

The more people you have working to defend you, the more it’s going to cost.

It’s important to find out who is involved and what their rates are.

This way, you can be sure that the cost isn’t going to be out of control.

You can always ask to limit the size of your legal team as a way to keep costs in check.


4. Legal Research

Document, contract, review.


There are a lot of “hidden” fees when you begin working with a lawyer.

This is because of the cost to access legal documents and conduct various forms of legal research.

Depending on the type of case you need help with, a lawyer is going to spend a lot of time researching the laws.

This may require them to access law libraries or various legal databases online.

Most of these are not free, and you’ll be the one to pay for that access.

There may also be the necessity to pay for legal documents.

This can include copies of birth certificates, criminal background checks, and all sorts of things.

Depending on what it is, you may have to pay $100 or more for these things to be sent.

If they’re coming from a place that doesn’t use electronic records, there may be added costs for the items to be mailed.

It can also be time-consuming for lawyers to do the research.

They’ll hire law students and junior lawyers within the firm to do a lot of the research.

This can save you some money because you’re not paying for the highest-paid lawyer to do it all.

Still, if there’s a lot to research, it’s going to add up quickly.

You can’t just tell them not to do the research, though.

Research is an integral part of many cases.

It can demonstrate that another court made a similar ruling in the past.

Using case histories can be a way to build up your case.


5. High Demand

Happy senior old family couple clients make financial insurance estate business deal


Everyone wants a lawyer who can give them positive results.

Good lawyers are in high demand.

Some cities are limited in legal expertise, too.

Large cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have lawyers of every specialty.

Many are experienced.

Therefore, they can provide impressive numbers to show why they can charge the higher prices.

In some instances, lawyers are sought after because they represented a celebrity or high-profile case.

Once a lawyer has that kind of fame, they can charge a lot higher.

Legal fees are based on supply and demand just like so many other things.

When a lawyer is highly sought after (demand), they know that there isn’t anyone else like them (supply).

As such, they know that you can’t just choose another lawyer.

They have you.

They can charge what they want.

If you want them badly enough, you’ll pay the prices.

Some areas of law are also not widely practiced.

Civil rights law, for example, isn’t as common as criminal law.

If you feel as though your civil rights have been infringed upon, you need a lawyer with expertise in the right area.

The more unique your case is, the more it requires someone with expertise.

That means that those individuals are in high demand.

Be prepared to spend more when your case is different from what the average lawyer will represent.


6. They Know We Need Them

lawyer having meeting and consoling solution to his clients


Try going through a divorce without the help of a lawyer.

Your other half will have a lawyer, and they’ll take you for everything you’re worth.

Try going through a murder trial when you know you didn’t do what they’re accusing you of.

The prosecutors have developed an entire case.

They have to prosecute someone, and they’ve decided that it’s you.

Lawyers are there to represent you and your best interests.

In many situations, legal representation is a necessity.

Otherwise, you are at the mercy of the court.

You have to fight for your rights.

You have to make sure that your case is presented clearly.

That requires research, witnesses, and someone who will show you off in the best possible light.

Without a lawyer, you’ve got nothing.

Lawyers know that you need them.

They know that you could pay a fortune without them.

You could get taken advantage of without them.

You could even go to jail without their help.

As many jokes as there are about lawyers, they play a vital role in today’s society.

Knowing that we need them, they can charge whatever they want.

Sometimes, they charge more than what the others in town are charging for their services.

It may make sense for them to charge more just so that they can see what they will get.

Often, there’s a trial and error effort to determine what a community will pay.

Lawyers will go high to see what they can get people to pay.

From there, they’ll offer services on a sliding scale for those who struggle with the costs.


7. Fees Associated With The Process

Law gavel on a stack of American money


The cost of a lawyer is often about the fees that are involved.

You’ll pay the legal fees of the lawyer.

You’ll pay the research fees involved with getting information about your case.

You’ll pay the shipping fees to have various items shipped in for your case.

You’ll pay the copying fees for every piece of paper that is printed to present for your case.

All of that is added to your bill.

The legal fees that the lawyer charges, however, are inclusive of all the fees that they have to contend with throughout the year.

While many of the fees don’t directly affect you, it’s how the lawyer determines what to charge.

Most lawyers, especially starting out, don’t anticipate getting a lot of clients.

As such, they’ll charge a high rate to compensate for everything they have to pay for.

Lawyers have to pay for legal malpractice insurance.

If they have ever had an issue, their insurance premiums will be higher.

Other fees that lawyers may have to pay to stay in business include training, workshops, seminars, marketing, administrative, and more.

It can get rolled into the hourly cost that they’ll charge.


8. Services Are Specialized

Secretary. Lawyer or businessman in office


There are a lot of areas of law that need to be taken into consideration.

Some lawyers make more money based on their specialty.

This is because of the additional training or degrees that they need to obtain.

In some instances, it is also because of the type of clients they represent.

Many of the areas where lawyers earn the most include medical malpractice, intellectual property, tax, and trial.

Some corporate lawyers are even retained by corporations to represent all of the individual needs of the corporation so that they don’t have to pay for a lawyer each time there’s a legal issue.

When there’s a case that requires the need to know the ins and outs of a particular industry, expertise is critical.

You want to make sure that a lawyer has experience representing these kinds of cases.

Find out what makes them an expert, whether it’s working in that field, obtaining a specific degree, or simply working in a particular law firm.

The more expertise a person has within an area of law, the more they are likely to charge.

This is because they have the expertise, and therefore, they can provide you with a greater likelihood of the case going in your favor.

Essentially, the more you pay, the more you improve your odds.

Remember, too, that not all lawyers will charge by the hour.

Some will charge a percentage of what your case is worth.

This is particularly prevalent with personal injury lawyers.

They’ll take a flat percentage, such as 30%.

That means that, if they are able to fight and get you $100,000, they’ll take $30,000.

Not all lawyers take the same percentage, and often, it is based on specialty and their level of expertise.

Obviously, if you get a lawyer who can fight your case and get $100,000, but they’re taking 30%, you’ll earn $70,000.

Then again, if you hired a more experienced lawyer who will take 40% but they’ll get you $1 million, you’ll earn $600,000.

Sometimes, it is a gamble.

Higher percentages can mean a bigger payout, but it is not a guarantee.


9. Overhead

Lawyers having team meeting with law documents


The average law firm has a lot of overhead.

They want to impress clients (like you).

That means that they have to walk the walk and talk the talk.

The average law firm has a physical office.

You go to the office so that you can talk to a lawyer about your case.

Most firms have more than one lawyer on the premises.

As such, the building will contain multiple offices.

It has to be big enough to accommodate everyone.

The building alone means that there’s a mortgage, commercial insurance, taxes, electricity, and other utilities.

Additional overhead comes in the form of administrative costs.

This includes the office staff who will answer the phones all the way to the printers that may be rented.

Marketing is part of the overhead.

This covers the cost of maintaining a website, having blogs written, and even paying for social media ads, billboards on the road, and sponsoring various events throughout the community.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average lawyer is earning a salary of $127,990.

Of course, this depends on the city and expertise, too.

What you will pay is not simply the salary of the lawyer.

In many cases, 40% of what they charge goes to overhead.

As such, you’re paying for their salary as well as the overhead.

It’s one of the reasons you will often pay more when a lawyer has a nice office AND expertise in a specialty area.


10. Time And Expertise

Lawyer working with client at table in office


The American Bar Association explains that the most common billing method is by the hour.

The more experienced a lawyer is, the more they will charge for their services.

There are often different types of hourly charges, too.

What you pay for a lawyer to spend time in an office or library is lower than what you’d pay for them to spend time in the courtroom.

This is one of the reasons trial lawyers are some of the best-paid lawyers out there.

Most lawyers do market research to determine what they will charge.

They’ll make sure that they’re not the highest or the lowest in town.

Then, they’ll take time to determine if they should charge more based on their specialty and the number of years they’ve been practicing law.

As such, you’ll pay for both the time that the lawyer spends on your case AND the level of expertise that they can offer.


What Is Pro Bono Work?

Render illustration of Pro Bono Title On Legal Documents


Pro bono work is often provided at no cost.

It comes from the Latin term that means “for the public good.”

What is pro bono work, though?

Obviously, when you’re looking for legal services, free is a good thing.

However, not everyone qualifies for pro bono.

It all comes down to what kind of services you need.

Does it benefit more than just you?

If the answer is no, you probably don’t qualify.

Many law students will engage in pro bono work because it’s a chance to get familiar with more casework.

The work done is overseen by a law firm, but because students are doing the majority of the work, there’s no charge.

Many law firms will also offer a certain amount of pro bono work each year.

Much of it is based on real-life issues and challenges.

Often, the majority of pro bono cases are for environmental causes or to help marginalized and underserved communities.

Those who lack the income to pay for legal fees can get the help that they need.

In some instances, law firms won’t offer their services pro bono, but they will offer them at a significant discount.


How To Get Affordable Legal Services

Asian lawyer woman working with a laptop computer in a law office


If you don’t qualify for pro bono work, you’ll need to spend the money on a lawyer… or will you?

In some instances, you don’t need to pay by the hour for a professional.

Legal documents are available online.

Some law firms have figured out how to offer generic legal documents online.

All you have to do is pay to access them.

Contracts, wills, and even divorce paperwork can be found online.

You fill it out, pay to access it, and let a lawyer sign off on it all.

When you don’t need the help of a lawyer for anything unique or custom, you can save a bit of money.

Of course, if you need their help with someone who doesn’t want to sign a contract or any other paperwork you present, you will need an actual lawyer.

It will cost you, but you might not have a choice at that point.

Find a lawyer who is willing to provide you with a free consultation.

They’ll tell you not only the costs but also if you actually need their services or not.

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