Research First Start by getting a basic understanding of the different ways that lawyers can charge you. The three main ways that lawyers can bill are fixed fees, hourly fees, and charges. Depending on the complexity of your case, one may make more sense than another. Be sure to discuss this in advance with your attorney and, if your billing method doesn't meet your needs, be prepared to find a different lawyer.
Consider a flat fee This method usually involves paying upfront before the lawyer starts working on your case. This may be expensive initially, but it can save you money in the long run. Fixed fees are ideal for simpler needs such as wills, power of attorney, contracts, setting up a business, name changes, and uncontested divorces. A contingent fee is a charge that is only paid if your case is successful.
Attorneys and clients use this agreement only in cases where money is most often claimed in personal injury or workers' compensation cases. Many states strictly prohibit this method of billing in criminal cases and in most cases involving domestic relations. In a contingent fee agreement, the lawyer agrees to accept a fixed percentage (often one-third to forty percent) of the amount recovered. If you win the case, the attorney's fees come from the money you were awarded.
If you lose, neither you nor the lawyer will receive any money. On the other hand, win or lose, you will probably have to pay filing fees in court, costs related to testifying witnesses and similar expenses. By entering into a contingent fee agreement, both you and your lawyer expect to collect an unknown amount of money. Because many personal injury actions involve considerable and often complicated investigation and the work of an attorney, this can be less expensive than paying an hourly rate.
It also gives the client the option of defraying the initial costs of the litigation unless, and until, there is an agreement or a monetary award. You must clearly understand your options before entering into a contingent fee agreement. Similar to fees based on the amount of your debt, an attorney may charge you a percentage of the money you will save with the settlement. With this type of agreement, attorney fees increase with the amount you save, giving the lawyer more incentive to get the best possible settlement.
Standard injury attorney fees range from 33 to 40 percent of your court agreement or award. However, you have the right to negotiate lower rates with an attorney before deciding to hire him to represent you. While promises to a lawyer can be reviewed by a court, promises made to a client will almost always be enforced. Despite this, lawyers often tell their clients that they are entitled to a “bonus” on the agreed fees because the matter has become more difficult than expected or due to an unexpectedly favorable outcome.
It is common for an attorney of this type to “negotiate the increase in fees in the middle of a compromise.”. Courts and bar associations will review such “negotiations” for evidence that the lawyer claimed inadequate influence. Lawyers often refer to the agreements they have with clients, usually drafted by the lawyer at the beginning of the contract, as evidence that a client accepted certain payment terms. In exchange for the referral, Attorney A will sometimes be paid part of the total fee you pay to Attorney B.
Be sure to bring all your documents to your initial meeting with the lawyer and show him the organized file you have prepared. A lawyer could agree to limit fees if the insurance company makes an acceptable settlement offer after the lawyer has worked only a small number of hours on the case. If you pay a fixed amount of money on a regular basis to make sure there is an attorney available for any necessary legal services you may need, then you have an attorney for hire. Unlike most other types of lawyers, personal injury lawyers usually work on a contingent basis.
When you arrive for your free consultation with a personal injury lawyer and you have collected and organized the documents you will need for a successful injury claim, you will be in a strong position to negotiate attorney fees. Talk to your lawyer about fees and expenses, and make sure you understand all the information about fees and costs that your lawyer gives you. In these situations, you may be able to pay an attorney by the hour, without the lawyer assuming responsibility for your claim. If the claim is resolved within the number of attorney hours you specify, the agreement may provide that you pay the attorney an hourly rate instead of the full contingency fee.
Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16, which applies in New York and many other jurisdictions, allows a lawyer to withdraw if “the client substantially fails to comply with an obligation to the lawyer with respect to the services of the lawyer and has been given a reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless fulfill the obligation. Reach an agreement that if the lawyer can resolve your case solely by negotiating an acceptable settlement, that is, without having to go through any actual litigation process, the lawyer will receive a 25% contingency fee. But if you have agreed to pay your lawyer the standard one-third contingency fee for handling your case, the lawyer will receive that much of your compensation for having done almost no work. If you emphasize how much work the lawyer's office will have been exempted because of your efforts, the lawyer may agree to some kind of reduced fee agreement.
For more information on working with a personal injury lawyer and what to expect from one, see AllLaw's resource section on using a personal injury lawyer. . .