When you hire a lawyer, you expect that that professional will complete a legal task for you, and the lawyer expects that he or she will be paid for the work. How much the work will cost is a discussion you and your lawyer should have as you begin your work together. Often the fee arrangement is put in writing in a retainer letter, and signed by the two of you.

Lawyers charge for their work in a number of different ways:
Flat fee: this is frequently used for a brief consultation, or to prepare a document such as a purchase and sale agreement, a deed or a will. Flat fees are used when the work is short term or a relatively simple or commonly prepared document is needed. 
Hourly fee: When an attorney can’t estimate how much time your case will take, she may charge you by the hour until the matter concludes. This is commonly used in divorce cases, some civil cases and many criminal defense cases. If the case resolves quickly without hearing, the cost to you will be low, while matters involving hearings, trial preparation and long negotiating sessions will be expensive. An attorney who agrees to represent you on an hourly basis may charge you a deposit or retainer and will then bill against that deposit until it is used up. After that, you may be required to pay another deposit or pay a regular monthly payment until the case concludes and the bill is paid in full. Many law firms bill lower rates for less experienced attorneys and paralegals, and will work with you on payment schedules you can afford.  
Retainer agreement: An attorney who is on retainer receives a regular payment from a client, and remains available to that client to answer questions or handle small legal matters as they arise. Larger matters are billed separately. This arrangement works well for business, non-profit and municipal clients who need regular access to a lawyer or law firm.
Contingent fee: In certain types of cases (for example, a personal injury resulting from a car accident) a lawyer may take your case without charging you a fee, but will take a percentage of any money she helps you recover. This makes certain types of cases affordable, but will reduce the amount of money you get to keep. 
Reduced fee and pro bono: Sometimes, lawyers will represent you pro bono (for free) or for a reduced fee if you can’t afford their services otherwise. Even with pro bono or reduced fee cases, you will likely be expected to pay certain costs, such as filing fees, deposition costs, mileage, service and postage. An attorney may represent you at a reduced fee because she wants to gain experience in a new area of the law, or because there is an interesting legal matter at issue. Most attorneys do pro bono work, but many require that you go through a screening process to confirm that you are low income and can’t otherwise afford an attorney. 
Unbundled or limited representation arrangements: Vermont court rules now allow clients to hire attorneys to represent them in parts of a case. Limited representation, or “unbundling” of legal services, allows you to target your money to where you need legal help the most. For example, in a divorce case, you and your spouse may have worked out parental rights of your children, but can’t agree on property division. You can hire a lawyer just for the property part--to negotiate property division or represent you at the final hearing on the issue of property and debt distribution. In a contract dispute, you may want a lawyer to help you get information (discovery) from the other side, but you decide to argue your own case before the judge.