How Do Lawyers Get Paid If They Lose a Case?

How Do Lawyers Get Paid If They Lose a Case?

Many uncertainties arise when you get hurt in an accident. You suddenly face the burden of unexpected health challenges, loss of time at work or school, and high unplanned expenses. You may have heard that hiring a lawyer can help, but you worry about whether you can afford one amid that difficulty and strain.

What if you hire a lawyer and they can’t get you results? Will you be on the hook for a mountain of legal fees?

The short answer is, no, you won’t. In virtually all cases, personal injury lawyers only get paid if they win for a client. If they lose a case, they do not get paid.

Personal Injury Lawyers Work On Contingency

Personal injury attorneys understand that many, perhaps even most, potential clients face severe financial strain after getting hurt in an accident. Those potential clients simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer high legal fees.

That is why personal injury lawyers almost always work on contingency (also known as working for a contingent fee). A contingent fee arrangement makes it possible for you to get quality legal representation in your personal injury case without risking further financial hardship. Here’s how.

Contingent Fees: You Only Pay If Your Lawyer Wins Your Case

A lawyer who works on contingency costs you nothing unless you win your case. In the typical contingent fee arrangement, the attorney does work without charging you money upfront and without billing you as the case goes along. The attorney also usually pays the costs of pursuing your personal injury claim, including travel expenses, court fees, and expert witness bills.

Instead, you and the lawyer agree that the lawyer will get to keep a percentage (typically between 30 and 40 percent) of any money the lawyer succeeds in obtaining for you in the personal injury claim via settlement, court judgment, or jury award. In effect, the lawyer assumes all of the financial risks of your case. If they lose, they don’t get paid.

Contingency Percentages Often Vary

The percentage you and the lawyer agree that the lawyer will get for winning your case may vary based on:

  • The complexity of the case and the amount of work it may take to win it;
  • The lawyer’s assessment of the probability of winning your case;
  • How long the case takes or how far down the road to a trial the lawyer must go before getting you results;
  • The potential and actual amounts of money the lawyer can get you for your injuries and losses; and
  • Statutes and rules that set minimum or maximum amounts on the percentage or actual dollar amount a lawyer can receive.

The purpose for variations in the percentage a lawyer might get is to give the lawyer a reasonable fee that reflects the amount and quality of work done on your behalf, and the risk the lawyer took in agreeing to represent you on contingency. Sometimes, if a lawyer wins a case, the amount the lawyer receives on contingency can exceed what the lawyer theoretically might have earned by billing by the hour. That premium reflects the risk the lawyer takes of earning nothing if they lose the case.

It’s All Spelled out in Writing

Lawyers and their clients agree on a contingent fee arrangement at the very beginning of a personal injury case. A contract spells out the terms and conditions of the contingency agreement, in plain English, if, when, and how the lawyer will get paid. There are no surprises in contingent fees for personal injury cases—it's all explained upfront, in writing, which gives you the peace of mind of knowing that you will never receive an unexpected legal bill that you can't afford to pay.

Contingent Fees Benefit Everyone

By working on contingency, and risking getting paid nothing if they lose, personal injury lawyers expand the public’s access to justice and make the world a safer, more accountable place.

Contingent fees make it possible for you to obtain quality personal injury representation at a time of your life when you cannot afford new expenses. This gives you access to the legal system and the courts that you might not otherwise have, which increases your chances of receiving the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries and losses.

Without contingent fees, only those personal injury victims who could afford a good lawyer would get one, while the rest would be left exposed to the aggressive tactics of defense lawyers and liability insurance companies. In other words, lawyers who work on contingency make the legal system more equal by ensuring that anyone who needs a good lawyer can get one.

Contingent fee arrangements also make it possible to hold even the most powerful parties accountable for wrongful actions that harm individuals like you. A personal injury victim rarely has the financial resources to take on a large corporation or institution, but successful personal injury law firms do. By working on contingency, they level the playing field and force wrongdoers to bear the costs of their misconduct.

Do Not Worry About Paying a Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered a serious injury due to someone else's negligent or wrongful actions, the law may entitle you to significant financial compensation. Because you have those rights, an experienced personal injury attorney may want to represent you on contingency.

You do not have to worry about how you will pay a personal injury attorney. An attorney will likely work for you without charging you a penny upfront or as the case progresses. The attorney will only get paid if you win your case.

To learn more about your rights to compensation after you get hurt in an accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today.

William B. Kilduff


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