All attorneys, taking on a case where a sum of money (compensatory damages) is being sought, need to be paid. Typically payment for legal services is based on an hourly rate, often, these days, anywhere between $100-300 per hour. Some highly skilled and sought-after lawyers can ask as much as $500-750/hour. Whether the service, provided is worth the price, is a matter of opinion, but the public has to understand that time is the only thing that a lawyer sells and the hourly rate has to cover payrolls, supplies, rents, equipment and other items, considered "overhead" or the cost of doing business, with enough left after that for the lawyer to make a profit, which is the lawyer's source of income. Most of the population of the U.S. can not afford to pay for even a few hours of a lawyers time, certainly not for the many hours needed to take a case all the way through litigation, trial and collection. The contingent fee was created to make complicated, lengthy legal work affordable.
Do I have a claim? Do I need a lawyer?
I caution everyone reading this to be ethical and realistic. Just because you were in an accident, it does not mean you have a case. If you are in a major car crash and walk away from it with an airbag bruise and soreness for a few days, thank your higher power for mercy and move on with your life. The compensation system, whether it involves negligence, workman's compensation, product liability, premises liability (often called Slip and Fall) was developed over time to give monetary compensation to people who are hurt badly, not trivially or transiently injured people that go to a lawyer for directions on how to build a case or exaggerate. Questionable claims are easy to spot by the trained, experienced defense lawyer and you will be put through the wringer to the point that you may suffer more from the process than you did from the injury. Remember the legal system provides a means of compensation, not a jackpot from a slot machine.
How do contingent fees work?
When you go for a first interview with an injury lawyer, you will be asked to describe what happened and many detailed questions about what happened, in order to decide if somebody, other than you, or some entity is, arguably, liable for your injury. If the lawyer sees a prospect of winning the case, the lawyer will make a judgment as to how likely it is that a settlement or successful result at trial or arbitration may be. You will be told if the lawyer wants the case, that you will not have to pay any legal fees if you agree that the lawyer gets paid by a percentage of the amount of money recovered for you. The contingent fee is between 25%-50%. The most common contingent fee is 1/3 or 33.3%. Be careful that you read the agreement proposed by the lawyer. There are lawyer friendly agreements and client friendly agreements. Do not feel like you have to accept what is proposed. Sometimes the fee structure is graduated, depending on the status of the case at time of settlement.
What should I look for in a contingent fee agreement.
You must be shown a written agreement. Contingent fee agreements are contracts and you should not rely on a handshake or oral promise. These agreements are widely variable. What I recommend you look for are the secondary paragraphs or clauses in the agreement. These are not complicated contracts. Be suspicious if the paper you are given is more than one page. The contract should have the percentage of recovery to the lawyer clearly indicated. Then there should be an explanatory clause. For instance, "one third of the gross amount recovered plus costs" means the lawyers share will actually be more than one third, but only one third is the "fee". Some lawyers do not take the risk of losing the costs and require the client to pay the costs if the case is lost.
That's what I call a lawyer friendly contingent fee agreement.
What are the "costs"
Every case is different but some things are constant. "Costs" is a constant. Law offices have overhead but that is not what "costs" means. Sometimes the agreement will refer to "expenses of litigation", "case expenses", "file expenses", "file costs" or just "expenses". If you see this in the agreement, what is included will be the filing fees if suit is started, fees for doctors records, stenographers fees for depositions or examinations under oath, filing fees for motions, applications, appeal costs and the like. Costs should not include postage, stationary, office supplies but may include large photocopying expenses or cost of courtroom exhibits. A major element of costs can be expert witness fees. Doctors and engineers charge a lot of money for their evaluations and testimony.
What are the different types of contingent fee agreements.
If your case has high potential and you believe that it is easy to prove that the defendant is liable for your injury (your judgment on this may not be correct), look for an agreement that is 1/3 or less and does not say, "plus costs" or that takes costs from your share. That means, if the lawyer collects $10,000.00 total, the legal fee, including costs will be $3,333.33 and you will get a check for $6,666.67. That is a "client friendly" contingent fee and this type is of agreement is hard to get because to the lawyer, a $10,000.00 case under such an agreement is not profitable if it has to go through a long litigation process, where cost may be into the thousands. So don't reject the lawyer if you don't get a client friendly agreement. Some agreements will say the fee is 1/3 plus 50% of expenses or costs. That type of hybrid, with the same recovery and $1,000.00 in costs means your check will be $6,100.67. If the agreement is 1/3 plus costs, your share would be $5,666.67.
Graduated contingent fees and court ordered fees
In cases where contract or property loss is involved, sometimes the fee will be different at different stages of the case. For instance, if a phone call or letter produces full payment, the fee structure may start as low as 10-15%, then increase to 20-25% if a lawsuit is filed but doesn't go past the pleadings stage, then 25-30% if full discovery with depositions and /or expert witnesses involved and 33.3%-50% if the case is prepared for trial or tried to verdict. Certain governmental types of compensation cases like workman's comp, unemployment comp, discrimination, civil rights, may have the fees determined by law or the percentage limited by the judge.
Can I negotiate?
Yes, you do have some power to negotiate with the lawyer, but you shouldn't. The reason I say that is because it takes years of experience and some good instincts to know the proper arrangement for an individual case. For a whiplash injury or sprain, you will probably have to take what the lawyer proposes. Hungry injury lawyers who want anything that comes through the door, may offer concessions just to get you signed up. You should be wary of too much encouragement to sign if you know you just have some soreness and wouldn't go to a doctor, but for the prospect of a case. You should be wary of your own judgment if that is why you are in a lawyer's office. On the other hand, very serious injuries with bad facts, making liability difficult to prove, may be taken by a lawyer in hope of a settlement, with no real intention to take the case to trial but the chance of a loss if the case does go to trial may make that lawyer ask for 50%. If you want the lawyer, agree to the fee.
How do I choose the lawyer?
This is not like choosing a brand of bread at the supermarket, except to the extent that you want the brand that has the best nutrition. The best source of information about a lawyer is from a satisfied client. Then there are sources such as Avvo which make an attempt to accurately provide information and ratings of lawyers. As long as you understand that there is some advertising aspect to websites and use all the features of a website intelligently, sites like Avvo can be extremely useful. Ads on buses, in newspapers, on TV, may make a lawyer famous but that doesn't mean the lawyer is skilled or experienced. Then there is the interview itself. Decide if you like the way you are treated. Listen to the lawyer's talk. Don't let fancy decor in the office waiting room or lavish furnishings sway you. Also understand that if the lawyer is with a firm of several lawyers, you are not assured that the one who signs you up will be handling your case. Don't sign if you want to walk away.
Our Rating is calculated using information the lawyer has included on
their profile in addition to the information we collect from state
bar associations and other organizations that license legal
professionals. Attorneys who claim their profiles and provide Avvo
with more information tend to have a higher rating than those who do
What determines Avvo Rating?Experience & background
Years licensed, work experience, education
Legal community recognition
Peer endorsements, associations, awards
Legal thought leadership
Publications, speaking engagements
This lawyer was disciplined by a state licensing authority in .
Disciplinary information may not be comprehensive, or updated. We recommend that you always check a lawyer's disciplinary status with their respective state bar association before hiring them.