How Much Does it Cost to Have a Lawyer on Retainer?

Large companies will often have a lawyer on retainer who is ready to handle any legal issues, from a contract dispute to a federal criminal investigation. Instead of hiring lawyers for federal cases and other issues as they arise, these companies can rely on federal criminal lawyers they already know and trust.

Lawyers charge a retainer fee to cover setup fees and guarantee that they are available. This arrangement ensures that your lawyer always has time in their schedule to handle legal services on your behalf.

Having a defense attorney ready to work on your issues can make a world of difference. You can reduce the chances of facing federal criminal charges and other penalties. Before you hire a lawyer on retainer, it’s important to understand the fee structure.

In this post, we’ll break down the details of retainer fees.

Typical Fee Arrangement for Legal Services

People seeking legal counsel often ask how much it costs to hire a lawyer. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Law firms operate individually, and fees vary quite a bit.

Retainer costs will depend on a few factors, these include:

The Lawyer’s Experience

An experienced federal criminal lawyer will charge much more than a lawyer who is new to federal criminal law.

A Great Track Record for Federal Trials

This can also mean higher prices. Lawyers may become familiar with federal judges and other federal court members over time, giving them unique insight that can benefit you as their client.

The Law Firm’s Location

Where a law firm is located also affects the price. The local cost of living and the established local trends for legal fees will affect the prices federal attorneys charge.

The Size of the Law Firm

The size of the law firm will also affect their legal fees. Larger law firms have higher operating costs and more resources so they may charge higher fees. They can handle federal criminal investigations and difficult criminal cases.

In California, the local bar association requires a written agreement for any situation where legal fees will exceed $1,000. This helps you and your federal lawyer stay on the same page about fees.

Lawyers in the following fields tend to charge the highest retainers:

  • Family law attorney – $5,000
  • Divorce lawyer – $5,000
  • Federal criminal defense lawyer – $8,000

A difficult criminal case can take a lot of time and resources, which is why the fees tend to be so high.

Hourly Rate

An hourly rate is one of the most common fee structures for lawyers. The billing process is fairly straightforward and accurately reflects the number of time lawyers have spent on the case.

New time-tracking software makes it easier than ever to ensure accurate billing.


  • Price accurately reflects services rendered
  • An experienced attorney can solve problems quickly
  • Accurate time tracking ensures no overpayment


  • Costs can add up fast
  • Lawyers have less incentive to work quickly
  • The payment total is unclear

Hourly fees vary based on the location and type of case. In California legal firms, they vary from $164 to $422 an hour, depending on the area of law.

Tax tops the list at $422, and indeed tax evasion and related issues can be quite complex.

Flat Fee Rate 

A flat rate fee is an upfront payment arrangement that covers all of your legal services. It’s commonly used for drafting paperwork such as employee contracts.


  • Efficient service
  • Clear-cut fees with no surprises
  • Potential savings


  • Possibility of overpaying if the issue is resolved quickly
  • Less personalized service
  • Only viable for some legal situations, like drafting contracts

This payment type suits both attorneys and clients. It keeps things clear and both parties know exactly what they are getting into, reducing the likelihood of fee disputes.

According to a recent survey from Statista, this fee arrangement is most common in the following fields of law:

  • Traffic
  • Immigration
  • Criminal cases

Retainer Fees

Retainer fees are upfront payments that lawyers request before they represent clients. They allow lawyers to invest time in your case.

This fee won’t represent the entire cost of your legal services. However, retainers generally reflect hourly fees. Your lawyer will calculate the retainer cost depending on the amount of time they think your case will take.

An attorney working on a complex federal criminal case may require a higher retainer.


  • Secures a lawyer’s services
  • Gives lawyers time to work on your case
  • Establishes a relationship with a reliable federal attorney


  • Pay structure can be complex
  • Large upfront payment
  • Fee disputes may result

Retainer fees result in a total cost that’s similar to an hourly rate. However, it’s a larger payment upfront, which can be a burden. For basic cases, you can expect a retainer of at least $2,500. Also, prices can range up to $10,000 depending on the situation.

Our lawyers for federal cases can answer all your questions about retainer arrangements and hiring a criminal defense attorney. We pride ourselves on establishing a positive attorney-client relationship.

Schedule your risk-free consultation, contact us at 877-541-3566 at LibertyBell Law Group today!

Frequently Asked Questions About Retainer Costs

If you’re interested in hiring a federal criminal defense attorney, you may be curious about retainer costs. Here are some of the most-asked questions about retainers.

How much is a retainer?

Retainers vary depending on the law firm and lawyer you work with. Asking local lawyers for quotes during a consultation can help you get an idea of how much you can expect to spend.

How can I estimate retainer costs?

Lawyer retainer costs are generally calculated by multiplying your lawyer’s hourly rate by the number of hours your case will take.

A lawyer can provide an estimate based on the complexity of your case.

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Gina Tennen


At A Glance

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