Who is REALLY "taking accident victims to the cleaners?"
I responded to an inquiry on line from a woman who was injured in an auto accident and she expressed serious concerns with lawyers' contingency fees and costs and was afraid of "being taken to the cleaners." This was not a new topic to me, after 35 years of dealing with injured clients and liability insurers, so I took some time explaining to her how those "greedy lawyers" actually function in our legal system. For anyone who is injured; was injured in the past; or who ever got taken to the cleaners by the insurance company, I will post here what I told her. It might open a few eyes. Might not.
What is this deduction for "COSTS" on a lawyer's accounting in an accident claim?
All attorneys will recover their "costs" in a civil action, which is money they advance to develop the case. Think of it as a free loan. No personal injury lawyer that I know of throws in the "costs" without being reimbursed for them after they win. That would bankrupt most lawyers. Here is why. Photocopying and postage, and mileage charges are trivial costs, and many firms (myself included) seldom charge for them.
What is the lawyer spending money on that is deducted as "COSTS" from settlement?
Most Personal Injury lawyers also often expend very substantial sums for private investigators, depositions, ordering medical records, hiring expert witnesses, trial fees, and such. This can mount to tens of thousands of dollars. In a case worth hundreds of thousands, this money is well spent, and without this investment your claim would be seriously under-compensated. Few injured parties, and especially those disabled from working for months due to their injuries, are capable of fronting such money to properly develop their claims. That is why contingency attorneys are a lifesaver for most injured parties, who could not afford legal representation without a contingency fee agreement.
Why aren't these "COSTS" part of the lawyer's fee on an accident case?
Personally, I would never accept a case if the client insisted that in exchange for a possible (contingent on my winning), fee of $40,000, I had to "throw in for free" an investment of $15,000-20,000 in case costs. That's just bad business and impractical. So if you think that lawyers should throw in their case investment for free, getting only the 1/3 fee at the end, you will never find a lawyer to accept your case. That is taking THE LAWYER to the cleaners.
Why should the lawyer get as much as I do?
I think the contingent fee arrangement is a boon to the injured party. How could you possibly sue the responsible party for your injuries if you had to put out $15,000-20,000 in case costs yourself, or pay a lawyer by the hour, like the insurance companies do? Instead, most injured people would just have to accept whatever minimal sum the insurance adjuster would offer, while laughing at having done you over. Believe me, the attorneys are not your enemies here. The insurance companies are. The insurance adjuster is only charged with protecting his employer's pocketbook, not protecting YOU.
Are case costs at least negotiable?
So it's counter productive to squabble about $400 in expenses with a $150,000 claim, isn't it? It sure would not be the deciding factor for me if I were hiring a lawyer. But if it bothers you, you will certainly find plenty of lawyers who do not include photocopying, postage and such expenses as part of their case costs. So ask! But those items are a drop in the bucket in developing and proving an injury claim to the insurer.
The "Greedy Trial Lawyers" scapegoat issue: the Century's best scam.
But my main concern with your inquiry is that it sounds very much like you are one of the many people who have totally bought into the insurance industry's propaganda about "greedy trial lawyers". Your inability to see these lawyers as advocates to protect you is the insurance industry's most potent weapon against the injured party. Do you honestly think the insurance adjuster for the drunk who hurt you is your friend, who wants to "cradle you in his good hands?"
"Greedy Trial Lawyers" and their interest free loans to their injured clients.
The only person who is standing between you and your eating all your financial and physical losses is that "greedy lawyer" who would like to be repaid for his interest-free loan of all the "cost money" he fronts for your case. I have to hand it to the insurance industry. To convince intelligent people like you that WE are the enemy is one heck of a coup. For everyone who is either too afraid or too angry to hire a personal injury lawyer, the insurance company laughs, all the way to their very fat piggy banks.