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How much does an employment lawyer cost?

Woman considers cost of hiring an employment lawyer

To sue your employer for unfair firing, discrimination, or harassment, you'll need to hire an employment lawyer. Let's break down how much it costs to hire an employment lawyer in Maryland.

How much does a consultation cost?

Your relationship with an employment lawyer starts with a consultation. This is an opportunity to explain your case, get legal advice, and ask any questions you may have. A one-hour consultation with an experienced employment lawyer generally costs between $300 and $500. Investing in a consultation early in your case is essential.

Some employment law firms offer a "free consultation." Be cautious of these.

Often, you won't get to speak with an actual employment attorney (just a receptionist or screening paralegal). An attorney will sometimes speak directly with you; however, that attorney may be distracted or dismissive. As a general rule, skilled employment lawyers don't give away their time and expertise for free. In other words—you get what you pay for.

You may also find the process of scheduling a consultation frustrating. We frequently hear that a potential client has reached out to dozens of law firms, only to hear back from one or two. Some firms require you to submit a "consultation request" form and wait for them to decide whether to follow up. We recommend finding a law firm that lets you book your consultation online, so there's no delay.

At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we offer same-day consultations for just $95. You can book one online here.

How do employment lawyers charge for their work?

Maryland employment lawyers generally charge either:

  1. hourly fees; or,

  2. a contingency fee.

Here is a breakdown of the differences between these two arrangements.

Hourly Fees

The most common way to hire an employment lawyer is "by the hour." As the lawyer or law firm works on your case, you'll receive weekly or monthly bills for that work.

As of 2023, employment lawyers in the United States charged an average of $377 per hour for their work. In Maryland, being close to Washington and Baltimore makes the average cost go up to over $500 per hour. The most expensive employment lawyers here charge more than $1,000 per hour.

For most Maryland workers, you can find a quality employment lawyer in the $300 to $500 per hour range. Many employment lawyers also require a "retainer," which is an advance cash payment at the start of a case. A cash retainer can range from $2,000 to $15,000.

At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, our fees are 40-50% lower than average, and scaled based on your income. We do not require a retainer. You can learn more about our fees here.

Contingency Fees

Historically, most employment lawyers took cases "on contingency." This meant you'd pay nothing up front, but 30-50% of any money you won in your case. Personal injury lawyers and workers compensation lawyers still do this. You've probably seen their billboards, proclaiming "pay nothing unless you win!"

So, why is it so hard to find an employment lawyer to take your case on contingency? Today, fewer and fewer employment law firms are taking cases on contingency. Instead, these law firms are charging hourly fees for their work. Among the reasons for this shift are:

  • Risk. A recent study suggests that plaintiffs with employment discrimination claims win just 15% of their cases. In other words, employment discrimination cases are difficult to win. Fewer employment lawyers are willing to risk their time and money on these types of cases.

  • Supply. An employment lawyer must be qualified to practice in administrative agencies (like the EEOC), state courts, and federal courts. The limited supply of lawyers with the training and experience to do this let's those lawyers charge higher fees.

  • Client Relationships. Contingency arrangements can create a toxic relationship between employment lawyers and their clients. They encourage the lawyer to spend less time and effort on the case, and to settle quickly for less than the case could be worth. Clients may find it frustrating to give a lawyer a lot of money for only a few hours of work.

Does this mean that you should avoid contingency arrangements? Absolutely not. If you can get an employment lawyer to take your case on contingency, this remains the most cost-effective way to pursue a case. Here's what you should know about modern contingency arrangements:

  1. The employment lawyer will take 30-50% of your winnings, no matter how much or little they work on your case. Your "engagement letter" will set out this percentage.

  2. You will likely still pay up front for major expenses like depositions or retaining experts. These can be significant (easily into the tens of thousands of dollars), and you should ask what to expect for expenses on your case.

  3. You may need to "shop around" quite a bit to find an employment lawyer willing to take your case. Be prepared to pay for several consultations, and organize your evidence so the lawyer can see how strong your case is.

If you can't find a lawyer to take your case on contingency, don't be discouraged. Many more employment law firms offer payment plans that make hourly fees affordable. We take a limited number of cases on contingency. We also offer payment plans on every case.


At the Employment Law Center of Maryland, we're here to make hiring an employment lawyer affordable for more Maryland workers. Contact us today.


An employment lawyer reviewing a contract with a client

You don't have to fight alone.

Book a consultation with one of our Maryland employment lawyers today.

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