RATES: First is FLAT rate vs. HOURLY rate: While many attorneys may offer a flat rate, this may not be the best option, especially if the case is required to be filed in a court. If you are looking at a FLAT rate, ask the attorney what is included? The big problem is when an attorney charges too little for their FLAT rate, that may mean that make too little per hour and must make their money in quantity, not quality. Put another way, the attorney may not want to put in the time your case needs. While hourly you pay for the service you get. If the attorney does not work on your case he does not get paid, in most cases (see retainers).
RETAINERS: When looking at a retainer, you need to understand what the retainer is for and how it is used. Some attorneys use the retainer for the right to just call the attorney (your attorney) and that is your only value. For consumers, run from this attorney in most cases! Some attorneys call their retainer their FLAT fee. If this is the case, you need to ask what is included, and see above for the problems regarding FLAT rate attorneys. Many attorneys call their retainers as their minimum fee. Few attorneys simply use the retainer as a refundable deposit, however these do not seem to be common from client's I have spoken to that have used other attorneys. Something new is what my firm does, the retainer is a deposit and part of it is refundable.
HOURLY RATE: When an attorney gives you a rate, you need to look at several things. First, is all work billed at this rate? This is not best for the client because the law firm may try to pass off as much work as they can to less experienced attorneys or even non-attorneys. There should be a lower rate for work done by none attorneys. The next issue is billable increments. Many attorneys bill in 1/4 hours while other bill in 1/10 hours. This is how this works. Two opposing attorneys talk about the case. One bills at $100.00 per hour and bills in 1/4 hours. The other attorney bills at $150.00 per hour and bills in 1/10 hours. The two attorney talk for 5 minutes in this example. The one billing the lower rate charges his client $25.00 for the call while the higher hourly rate attorney charges $15.00 for the same call, a 40% savings even that the rate is 50% more. As you can see, it is not just the rate, but the rate and billing increment.