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Hiring a Lawyer

This guide provides information on where to find a lawyer, how to effectively work with your lawyer, and how to resolve attorney-client disputes.

What are attorneys' fees?

Attorneys' fees refer to the compensation that attorneys charge for legal services. The cost will vary based on attorney's experience, location, and type of service. Because attorneys' fees only pay for a legal professional's time and labor, additional fees such as court costs and administrative expenses will be extra.

The most common ways that attorneys charge for their services are:

  • a flat rate;
  • an hourly rate;
  • contingency fee;
  • some combination of the above.

Before you hire an attorney, make sure you understand how their fee structure works. It's always a good idea to clarify anything you're not sure about, as this can help avoid surprises later on.

Does the law say how much a lawyer can charge?

Rule 1.04 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct has several fee-related rules that all lawyers must follow. Subsection 1.04(a) says that attorney fees must be reasonable:

(a) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect an illegal fee or unconscionable fee. A fee is unconscionable if a competent lawyer could not form a reasonable belief that the fee is reasonable.

What is considered "reasonable" will depend on the situation, as described in Subsection 1.04(b). According to Subsection 1.04(c), an attorney must clearly explain their rates to a new client before the charges start adding up:

(c) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.

If you disagree with how much you were charged, see Resolving Disputes page for several resources that may help.

What about Workers' Comp claims?

Workers' Compensation attorneys generally charge a contingency fee. This means they will receive a percentage of the benefits awarded only if they win the case. With some exceptions, the maximum fee allowed by law is 25% of the total benefits amount. This law is in Section 408.221 of the Texas Labor Code.

If income benefits are issued weekly, the percentage may be taken out of each payment. This rule is in the Texas Administrative Code, Title 28, Part 2, Chapter 152, Rule 152.1(c).

Certain benefits, such as "the value of medical and hospital benefits provided to the claimant" are excluded when calculating the attorney's fee. Texas Administrative Code, Title 28, Part 2, Chapter 152, Rule 152.2(b) lists this and other exceptions. 

What are court costs?

Court costs are expenses associated with moving the case through the court. It includes filing fees, service of process fees, and other types of expenses. The longer and more complex the lawsuit, the higher the court costs will be. 

Attorneys' fees normally don't cover the court costs. If an attorney charges you on a contingent basis ("pay only if you win"), you may still have to pay for the court costs—regardless if you win or lose the case.

What if I can't afford court costs?

In a civil lawsuit, you can submit a completed Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs when filing your case. The clerk might ask you for documentation proving your inability to pay. If you qualify, the court will waive your court costs for the duration of your case. You may have to file this form again if the case is transferred to another court. 

There is no standard inability to pay form for criminal cases. You can contact the court to see if they want you to use a particular form. Texas Appleseed has a Statement of Inability to Pay sample form that you may be able to use otherwise. 

Does the losing party have to pay?

In some cases, the losing party may be ordered to pay the winning party's attorney's fees and costs. It will depend on the specific facts of the case, the applicable laws, and judge's discretion.

What if I only need a small amount of legal services?

If you only need limited services or can't afford full representation, limited scope representation or "unbundled legal services" can be an affordable alternative. It could be a good option if you're looking for:

  • an hour or two of legal advice;
  • help with a form;
  • review of a contract;
  • help representing yourself.

There is no single list of attorneys who offer unbundled services. You may have to contact them individually to ask about limited representation. 

What if I have a simple legal question?

If you don't want to hire an attorney, a legal hotline may be able to help. Hotlines offer free legal assistance over the phone or online. They may answer simple legal questions but usually won't be able to help with complex problems or offer extended assistance.

You may have to meet certain income requirements to qualify for free services.

What if I can't afford a lawyer?

If you're facing criminal charges and can't afford an attorney, you may be eligible for a court-appointed attorney

Parties to most civil lawsuits do not qualify for court-appointed attorneys (with some exceptions). If you make below a certain income, you can apply for free legal aid or try to find a "pro bono" attorney to take your case.