Virtually all personal injury attorneys accept cases on a "contingency fee" basis. A "'contingency fee" means that the fee which the attorney receives depends entirely upon the attorney getting you a recovery, either through a negotiated settlement or by a jury trial. The attorney receives an agreed upon percentage of the amount recovered as a fee for his or her services. It also means that if there is no recovery, the attorney is not entitled to a fee.
For example, if your attorney puts in one to three years of time and effort and recovers $1,500,000 for you, then he or she would receive the agreed upon percentage of this gross recovery. If, on the other hand, the attorney spends one to three years of time and effort on your case and there is no recovery, then no fee is owed for his or her services over the prior three years.
It is important to note that the attorney's fees are contingent; however, the costs of litigation that the attorney may advance during the case are not. In other words, the attorney is entitled to recoup any costs of litigation advanced for the client regardless of the outcome of the case. These expenses include filing fees, deposition fees, fees for expert witnesses, consultants, investigators, graphic exhibits, medical records, etc. These fees can total anywhere from $2,000 – $100,000 in personal injury cases. Most lawyers will advance 100% of these expenses on your behalf and deduct them out of any settlement.
The contingency fee percentage your attorney will charge you depends on the state in which you live. State laws differ, Bar Rules differ, and the practices in states vary from one to the next. In some states, a common arrangement is 33.33% of any recovery before filing the lawsuit, and 40% of the recovery after filing (and possibly more if the case is appealed after trial or has to go through extensive judgment collection efforts).
Whatever the percentage is, the fee arrangement should be put in writing in a fee agreement signed by you and the lawyer or law firm. At Ripper Law Firm PC, all engagements begin with the signing of a representation agreement which outlines all the material terms of the representation.
Some lawyers will lower the contingency fee if they feel particularly strong about your chances of recovery, if your case has a high dollar potential, or if they are low on business. Be careful. You deserve high quality representation, and not just any personal injury lawyer will do. Truly, whom you hire to represent you or a family member can make an enormous difference in the outcome. Interview the lawyer thoroughly. This decision should not hinge upon whether a lawyer is willing to negotiate a couple of percentage points off his fee agreement. Quality attorneys expect and require a market rate for their services and do not discount them.