Cost represents one of the biggest concerns people have about hiring an attorney. Victims of personal injuries already face financial strain after an accident. They worry about taking on any new expense, and they fear that lawyers don’t come cheap.
They do not need to worry, however. In virtually all cases, personal injury lawyers represent their clients on contingency, which means their only fee consists of a percentage of any money they recover for their client.
In this blog post, we discuss contingency fees: what they are, how they are used in personal injury cases, and what the standard contingency fee is for a personal injury lawyer.
What Is a Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee is a way of paying for a lawyer’s services in which the lawyer receives payment only upon achieving a specific result.
In the typical contingency fee arrangement for a personal injury case, the lawyer and client agree that the lawyer’s fee will consist only of a percentage of whatever money the lawyer secures on the client’s behalf. The lawyer does not charge the client by the hour, and the client pays no money to the lawyer up-front. Instead, the lawyer only gets paid if the client gets paid.
Why Do Personal Injury Lawyers Work for a Contingency Fee?
Like other professionals, personal injury attorneys need to receive compensation for the legal services they provide. However, they also understand that their clients—injured people—often face severe financial strain. Contingency fees give personal injury victims access to justice without burdening them with an up-front expense. In many personal injury cases, clients would not have the ability to hire a lawyer at all were it not for the lawyer’s willingness to work on contingency.
How Contingency Fee Arrangements Work
Here’s how contingency fees work.
At the very beginning of a representation, the lawyer and clients sign a fee agreement or fee letter that specifies the exact percentage of any money the lawyer secures on behalf of the client which the lawyer gets to keep as a fee.
The fee agreement will also spell out how the lawyer and client will handle the administrative costs of a case, such as filing fees, paying expert witnesses and para-professionals, and travel expenses. Personal injury lawyers often agree to pay these costs themselves, provided they get reimbursed from the money they recover.
The agreement should explain these arrangements in plain English so that the client understands them.
Standard Contingency Fees
It’s increasingly common for lawyers and clients to agree to a sliding scale of percentages, based on:
- The amount of time the attorney spends preparing and working on the case. Personal injury lawyers take a risk in agreeing to contingency fee arrangements. If they do not get results, they do not get paid. But, even if they do get results, it might take them an enormous amount of work to do so. Sometimes lawyers and clients will therefore agree that the lawyer receives a higher percentage the more effort that goes into securing a positive outcome.
- How and when in the legal process the case gets resolved. In the same vein, lawyers and clients might agree to vary a contingency fee percentage based on how and when a case gets resolved. A case that settles after just a few weeks might entitle the lawyer to a lower percentage than a case that succeeds only after a long trial.
- The amount of money the attorney might succeed in securing for the client. Lawyers have an ethical obligation not to charge “unconscionable” fees. In high-dollar value cases, that obligation may require the lawyer to receive a lower percentage of the total recovery, depending on how much time and effort goes into securing the result; and/or
- The amount of risk involved in the case. A lawyer who takes a long-shot case against a high-powered opponent might have good reason to ask the client to agree to a higher percentage than one who takes a straightforward case that looks easy to settle for a top-dollar amount.
Agreeing on a Contingency Fee
As a personal injury client, you have every right to discuss the amount and terms of a contingency fee arrangement before agreeing to it. Asking questions can help you understand how the arrangement will work, and whether it seems fair.
- What is the range of amounts the attorney thinks you may recover?
- How strong does the case appear to the attorney?
- What steps does the attorney anticipate taking on your behalf?
Keep in mind that attorneys cannot tell the future. They can make informed guesses about how a case will go, but they cannot promise an outcome or guarantee an amount. If an attorney hesitates to give you definitive answers to the questions above, that’s normal and a sign the attorney has enough experience to know that cases can sometimes take unpredictable turns.
The convenient thing about a contingency fee arrangement, however, is that it puts the attorney and the client in the same boat. They both want the same thing: for the case to resolve quickly, efficiently, and for as much money as possible. That makes a successful outcome a win-win for the lawyer and client.
Speak With an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Today
Through contingency fee arrangements, experienced personal injury lawyers make it possible for injured people to have top-notch legal representation in their fight to secure the compensation they need and deserve. Contingency fees save clients from having to pay so much as a dime of money up-front so that they can focus their energy and finances on recovering their health and rebuilding their lives.
To learn more about your legal options for recovering damages after suffering a personal injury, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today for a free, confidential, no-obligation case consultation.