Most attorneys charge by the amount of time they work on a case. Typically, they may cite an hourly rate but will break down the time increments to shorter segments when, for example, they take 10 minutes to answer a client’s email, text or phone call. There is also often a retainer, which is money upfront to start working on a case.
Personal injury is different
Personal injury attorneys, however, are paid by a contingency fee. This means that they get a percentage (it varies but often around 33%) of the client’s settlement as payment for their work. If they lose the case, and the client receives no compensation, then the attorney receives no payment.
Why do they work on contingency?
There are some critical reasons why personal injury attorneys work this way:
- Eliminates greedy practices: Contingency helps ensure that attorneys do not work high-paying cases they know they likely will lose, or it avoids them stretching out a case to charge the client more money.
- Many injured cannot afford legal representation: There are victims in all the different income brackets, but contingency fees ensure legal representation for those who may not otherwise afford it.
- It levels the legal playing field: Defendants will likely have legal teams hired by an insurance company or business, so this pay scale helps even the plaintiff’s odds since they also get strong legal representation.
There are still related expenses
Attorneys work on contingency, but others do not. Plaintiffs pay money to file a claim, and there are also court costs. There may be other administrative costs as well. It is also common to hire expert witnesses to strengthen a case – this may be a doctor explaining the nature of the victim’s injuries or an expert in motor vehicle crash reconstructions. The client would pay for the experts’ time, travel and lodging (if necessary), as well as other expenses related to their work on the case. While the attorney may cover them upfront, the client pays these expenses regardless of the case’s outcome.
Attorneys will explain their fees
Attorneys will explain the details of their contingency fees during the free initial consultation. This is also the time for the potential client to ask questions about contingency fees or other costs if something does not sense to them.