There are several types of fee arrangements that attorneys use. The type of fee an attorney charges will depend on the type of case you have and your ability to pay the attorney. The most common forms of billing include contingent fees, flat fees, hourly rates, and retainer fees.
A contingent fee is a percentage of the total judgment or settlement you receive should you win your case. If you cannot pay your attorney up front, or if the settlement or judgment you expect to receive is large, an attorney may agree to work for this type of fee. If the attorney fails to get you a judgment or settlement, you generally do not owe the attorney any money.
A flat fee is an amount that the attorney and client agree upon before the attorney begins work on your case. The fee is based upon the amount of work the attorney expects to put into your case and is paid up front.
Attorneys may also charge you by the hour for the time they put into your case. These rates vary from attorney to attorney and depend upon the type of case being litigated. Usually a lawyer will be able to estimate the number of hours s/he will be spending on your case and can give you an estimate of what the total fee for your case will be.
A retainer fee is akin to a down payment on an attorney that guarantees s/he will be available to work on your case. This means that the lawyer may have to turn down other cases in order to be available for your case, and therefore may require more money from you. In this arrangement you may be billed separately for work on your case, or these fees may come out of the retainer itself. Since the arrangement varies, be sure to have your attorney explain it in detail.