- Practice Areas
There’s one area of personal injury law that can be confusing for clients at first: the contingency fee. Most lawyers earn an hourly fee so, for obvious reasons, if you’re the victim of a car accident in Denver, you may fret that you will rack up a bill simply by talking with a Denver personal injury lawyer. But that is not at all true, or at least it shouldn’t be.
Personal injury law is one legal specialty that works on a contingency fee, which is simply a fancy way of saying, “free until we win.” You should pay nothing to your personal injury attorney – or contingency lawyer – until he or she secures a settlement for you from your case. If you’re working with someone who is nickel-and-diming you to support your case, then you need to flee, as quickly as possible.
Your personal injury attorney should not receive a dime until your settlement comes through. At that point, he or she will recoup some costs and receive an agreed-upon percentage of your settlement – this is your contingency fee.
Now, forgive me if I sound a bit defensive at times in this article because there is a presumption that by taking a percentage of the settlement a personal injury attorney is somehow fleecing his or her client. I’ll grant you that there are some attorneys out there who don’t work hard enough for their clients, but if your attorney works his tail off and finds money for you under every rock, not only has he earned his contingency fee, but he’s probably invested quite a bit of his firm’s resources to achieve success for you.
For example, I often hire an accident reconstructionist to visit the scene of an accident and to review all of the police reports, images and statements, so that I have an outside expert’s opinion on exactly how the accident occurred. These experts charge either by the hour or by the project and your personal injury attorney has to pay 100% of that fee prior to your settlement.
Sometimes, I need to hire an animation expert to use the reconstruction and build a video that I can show the other attorneys, insurance companies, or juries. An animation of a car accident may look something like this. These animations are highly effective at securing wins for victims of car accidents, but they are also quite expensive. Your personal injury attorney pays 100% of that fee prior to your settlement.
Depending on how antagonistic your case is and whether it goes all the way to court, your attorney may be paying thousands of dollars up front to fight for your rights. There are filing fees and other costs associated with the business of law that you should never have to concern yourself with.
Finally, your attorney probably also has a team of people working for him on your case. He probably pays those people a monthly salary, including benefits. You pay nothing for their time; that is all your attorney’s responsibility.
So, the time arrives and your attorney either wins or loses your case. Actually, in the personal injury world, there are wider degrees of success: some attorneys are a lot better than others at finding all of the sources of money that are available to victims so, while your attorney may claim a “win,” you may actually have gotten more money from an attorney who worked harder for you. Read more about that here and here.
If your attorney wins and secures a settlement for you, yes, your attorney is usually owed for his or her costs, plus a percentage of the settlement. But if your attorney loses, secures a very small settlement, or no settlement for you, he is out everything that he invested in your case. Talk about a motivating fee agreement! Your attorney should be very motivated to secure as much for your case as possible so that he gets retribution for what he put into the case, the contingency fee.
Since personal injury attorneys don’t get their contingency fee until they win, it can be tempting to think that every attorney is the same. “After all,” you may think, “my case is probably worth the same amount no matter who takes it.” But that is not true! A good attorney may be able to get hundreds of thousands of dollars more for your case than one who doesn’t care or who has very little experience. Further, a good attorney (aka: one who cares) will go above and beyond to help you stretch your dollar.
The list goes on. If you’re not sure what to look for in a personal injury attorney, read this article. Regardless of who you pick, they should work on a contingency fee and you shouldn’t pay a dime until your case is settled. If you have any questions, please call me! 303-388-5304.