Everyone knows lawyers are expensive, even lawyers. Surveys cited by Wikipedia suggest a range of $200 to $1,000 per hour for large U.S. law firms. That's per hour, and we haven't even mentioned paralegal time, court costs, private investigator fees, administrative costs and other types of legal costs (including travel expenses and expert witness fees).
No two cases are alike, so the cost of a lawyer really depends. See "How Much Will it Cost to Hire a Lawyer?" for guidelines on how lawyers' fees typically are tallied.
So what is the cost of not hiring a lawyer? We'll get to that shortly (hint: usually you get what you pay for).
For a little perspective, consider that the average cost of a divorce in the U.S. is $20,000, according to a Bankrate.com article (but it varies widely from state to state). On the other hand, we offer do-it-yourself divorce kits from our partner LegalZoom for just $299. So $20,000 versus $299 for a divorce? If only it were that simple, lawyers would be out of business.
Point is, you really have to focus on value. Sometimes do-it-yourself kits make sense (even for divorce) but other times a seemingly pricey lawyer will actually save you time and money, while giving you peace of mind.
Often it's the intangibles that are most valuable.
If a divorce includes a child custody dispute, not having an attorney could mean less time with your kids. If it's a criminal case, paying for a skilled defense attorney could help you avoid the taint of a criminal record or help keep you out of prison (even if you are ultimately found guilty). If you're a small business owner, not talking to a lawyer about your HR policies could result in a devastating employment lawsuit.
Tanya Roth, our hyperlocal blog editor and an attorney licensed in the state of California, offered these words of wisdom:
"I think the basic answer is anytime you have to go to court instead of choosing to, it is a time and money saver to get a lawyer. Here is an example: you are getting a divorce. If there is any kind of fight over asset division or child custody, you will be on the losing end if your ex has a lawyer and you don't."
Despite opinions to the contrary, lawyers really do provide a valuable service.
At FindLaw, we offer top-notch legal information at our Learn About the Law section, a forum for answering your legal questions (FindLaw Answers) and an easy-to-use lawyer directory (Find a Lawyer), organized by practice area and searchable by location. To learn more about hiring a lawyer, see our "Guide to Hiring a Lawyer" section.
When life gets legal, it's often in your best interests to lawyer-up. We'll even help you find the right one.