In most types of legal cases, attorneys charge the client a fee tallied in increments of time that adds up to an hourly fee. Time includes all subsequent in-house consultations, phone calls to and from clients and others, research, case preparation, and court. There is often a retainer paid to the lawyer to start work. Personal injury attorneys operate differently.
Contingency fees mean no money up front
In a personal injury case, attorneys typically use a contingency basis for their payment. This is generally around one-third of the final judgment or settlement, with the rest going to the client. There may be a sliding scale where the percentage goes up if the judgement or settlement is more extensive and can go down if the judgement or settlement is smaller. Judges understand this payment and generally award the damages knowing how much goes to the victim. The attorney earns no fees if they lose the case, and the client receives no damages either through a settlement or in court.
Why do they use contingency fees?
This kind of payment addresses the very likely fact that the severely injured may currently have no means to support themselves. If the client works on a limited basis or has savings, the defendant’s insurance company’s resources are still much much greater than those of the individual. So not charging upfront provides a more even playing field for the plaintiff.
Costs are different than fees
While the attorney may work on contingency, others do not. There will still be administrative costs for handling the paperwork, payment for filings, court costs, and other incidentals. Expert witnesses can strengthen a case, but they also cost money. A motor vehicle crash reconstruction analysis expert or a doctor specializing in concussions will not be cheap, and there may be additional expenses for travel, hotels, depositions, and more. This can add up to a substantial expense if the victim loses.
Attorneys will explain their fees
Attorneys are required by law to explain their fees. Potential clients may wish to take notes and should ask questions so they can make educated decisions. It is also worth noting that the contingency fee prevents attorneys from taking advantage of clients by taking on a case they know they will likely lose.