Even in a strong economy, clients – you – should look at ways to get the most value from your lawyer's services. That starts with picking the right lawyer, of course, but aligning your interests with him or her matters a lot, too.
Different fee arrangements create different incentives. An hourly engagement tends to give you more control in the day to day conduct of your case. But it also puts the risk of inefficiency – especially by the other side – on you.
A contingent fee, on the other hand, shares risk between you and the lawyer and gives the lawyer an incentive to maximize your recovery because he or she will earn a percentage of it. The percentage varies from case to case, depending in part on the probability, timing, and size of the recovery. Don't feel shy about negotiating.
Flat fees work best in cases that involve more or less predictable levels of activity. A docket of employment litigation comes to mind. But flat fees can also function well in complex litigation, including patent and antitrust suits.
You can also combine hourly, contingent, and flat fee components.
Just remember to ask about the fee options each lawyer offers. You deserve to get what you want, but you won't get if you don't ask!