Most attorneys who practice law charge the client a fee based on the time spent on the case. This includes time litigating in court, talking to the client, preparing the case, negotiating with the other side’s attorney, and other details related to the case. There is often a retainer required to get the ball rolling.
Personal injury attorneys, on the other hand, are paid a contingency fee, which means their pay is contingent on winning the case in court or securing compensation for the victim in an out of court settlement. They will receive a percentage of the final amount, which averages about one-third but will depend on the case.
This arrangement is understood by the judge and the defendant’s legal team. The plaintiff’s attorney charges no legal fees if they lose the case.
Why is it set up this way?
There are a few good reasons why the legal system uses this approach for personal injury, all of which benefit the client:
- It levels the legal playing field: The defendant is likely an insurance company who does not want to pay damages, but they keep lawyers on retainer. Contingency ensures that the plaintiff has capable legal counsel in their corner as well.
- Many cannot afford the fees: Attorneys often costs hundreds of dollars an hour, which is more than many victims can afford, particularly if they are out of work due to their injuries.
- Avoids predatory representation: Attorneys are not tempted to take a case (or stretch one out to increase fees) that they know they will lose just because they need the money.
There are still some expenses
While there is no out of pocket legal fees, there may still be related expenses tied to court fees and administrative fees. The victim may also wish to hire expert witnesses like a doctor who can explain spinal cord injuries or an expert in motor vehicle crash reconstructions. These people help strengthen a case but are paid a fee regardless of the case’s outcome — this includes their time and possibly travel and lodging.
An initial consultation starts the process
Attorneys and potential clients start their working relationship with an initial consultation. This is when the victim explains the case’s circumstances, and the attorney can decide whether they want to take the case. They will answer other questions as well, including how they calculate fees.