Here’s Why Lawyers Can’t Just State Their Fees Up Front

Last updated on January 3, 2024

Here's Why Lawyers Can't Just State their Fees Up Front

First-time clients who are trying to find a lawyer – especially if they are in a stressful point in their lives –  sometimes get frustrated that they can’t just Google a few law firms’ websites to compare prices.

This article aims to explain why this may be so, and also give some insight into the kind of lawyer-hunting experience potential clients should expect instead.

How do Lawyers Estimate Their Fees?

To be fair, if one were to call up a lawyer and tell them they required some particular legal service, most lawyers would be more than happy to provide their hourly rates on the spot.

What a lawyer may not want to do, however, is to provide a fixed price for a particular service on the spot.

This is particularly if the amount of work required to provide the service tends to vary with each engagement, depending on what service(s) the client needs and the time needed to conclude the matter.

Lawyers generally calculate their fee estimates by reference to the:

  • Estimated time needed to provide a particular legal service; and
  • Their overhead costs for that period of time.

This often requires some quite complex predictions that cannot be made, to any useful degree of accuracy, without knowing a great deal about the matter first.

For example, if a lawyer were to agree to represent you in a dispute for $10,000 and the matter took 3 years to conclude instead of the lawyer’s assumed 6 months, he would quickly go out of business.

This is why the lawyer usually needs the client to provide him with quite a bit of information and documentation. Only then can the lawyer provide details on estimated costs, apart from the lawyer’s bare hourly rate. You may wish to read our other article on lawyer fees and the different fee arrangements with clients.

To draw an analogy with another profession, think of how it would not be possible for an engineer to provide a quote for constructing a building without having details of the project beforehand. The engineer would want to know:

  • Where the building is to be located;
  • How many floors does the building have;
  • What kind of materials are to be used;
  • How soon the building needed to be completed; and so on.

A lawyer is no different. If you were to ask a lawyer how much he would charge to sue a company, he will need to know:

  • Which company you want to sue;
  • Why you are suing the company;
  • How much you are suing for;
  • Where are the company’s assets are located; and so on.

Only then may he be able to provide a fee estimate of the rough expected range of fees for the dispute’s various stages.

Tips on Shopping around for a Reasonably-Priced Lawyer

From the perspective of a first-time client, it might take quite a bit of effort to give sufficient information to a lawyer just to find out how much the work could cost.

Therefore, if you want to shop around for a reasonably-priced lawyer (for corporate work, litigation or otherwise), it could save you a lot of time if you were to put together a concise brief of the main issues the lawyer will need to know, and attaching any relevant documentation he would need to see.

It will quickly become clear what information a lawyer will need from you, for the purposes of giving you a quote, once you have gone through the process once with the first lawyer. Thereafter, you should be able to simply re-send the same information to a few more lawyers and get a few more quotes to compare, without too much additional effort.

Why Could Law Firms Charge Differently for the Same Piece of Work?

The fact that different law firms give drastically different quotes for the same work can be explained at least in part by how different law firms have very different overheads.

For example, a law firm on the 30th floor of a Central Business District (CBD) tower probably has to pay significantly higher office rental than a firm located in a small 2nd storey shophouse a little further outside the CBD. Accordingly, you shouldn’t assume that a lawyer who gives a significantly lower quote is of a lower skill level.

You Can Have Your Bill Taxed

The vast majority of lawyers actually want to make their quote as low as they possibly can (after factoring in their overheads) to entice more business away from their competitors. That said, there will definitely be a few bad apples in the legal industry who will try to overcharge unsavvy clients.

However, be aware that you have the right to have your legal bill “taxed”. This means that you can have the court examine the legal bills. If the bills are grossly out of line with the market rate, the court will order that they be suitably discounted and that the lawyer refund any difference to you.

If you suspect that you are being overcharged by your lawyer, you should exercise this right or remind your lawyer that you are aware of that right. Having this information at your disposal should give you the peace of mind to not worry unduly that your lawyer will take advantage of you, so you can focus instead on choosing the best lawyer for the job.

At, we provide an online Find a Lawyer service where you can obtain up to 5 non-obligatory quotes from experienced lawyers for your legal matter. If you need to get in touch with a lawyer, feel free to make use of Find a Lawyer here. Use of the service is free.

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