Contingency Fee Cases (No Fee If You Don't Win)
As part of our website we offer as much free information as we can in order to educate the public on common questions regarding Illinois law. This page discusses contingency fee cases.
When we recommend Illinois attorneys, we try to steer clear of the ones that in our opinion come off as slimy. Some of these lawyers have the cheesy "We don't get paid unless you do!" type ads that in our opinion can be misleading and not a great representation of lawyers in general. That said, many people that contact us have questions about lawyer fees and do want an attorney that doesn't charge them unless the case is successful. We help these people on a daily basis, but hopefully in a less slimy way than the ads we don't like.
A contingency fee means that the attorney agrees to take on the case without charging any up front or hourly fee. In exchange for essentially working for free and taking the risk that a recovery will be made, the lawyer receives a percentage of what is recovered when the case is over.
Contingency fee cases are most commonly found in injury cases like workers' compensation, personal injury, medical malpractice and nursing home abuse. If you have a case like this and you are talking to an Illinois injury attorney that wants to charge you a fee (other than possibly to have you pay to get your medical records in a malpractice case), we almost always suggest that you look elsewhere. In our opinion it is usually a bad sign if an injury law firm is looking for money from you if they want you as a client. Every attorney we recommend in these cases works without getting a penny up front. They advance all of the costs of pursuing the case because their firms have a track record of success that allows them to do that.
Other cases where you will see attorneys almost exclusively work on a contingency basis include legal malpractice and class actions. For legal malpractice cases, attorneys that we recommend want to see financial damages as a result of an attorney messing up that would make it worth their while to pursue a case. In other words, if your divorce attorney screwed up and you aren't getting as much visitation as you want, we probably don't know a contingency lawyer for you. But if your divorce lawyer messed up and cost you $100,000 from your ex's pension, then we can likely help. In class action cases, attorneys works on a contingency basis because usually so many people have been wronged that if the lawyer wins the case it will justify the risk of not getting paid up front and advancing all of the costs of bringing the lawsuit.
Other cases that are sometimes, but not always done on a contingency basis include challenges to a will, commercial litigation, overtime or compensation cases from employment law, collections (if the amount owed is enough) and some child support cases. When challenging a will, a lawyer can work on a contingency if there is a real dispute. They can't take a percentage of what is recovered if it is just normal representation of an estate. In employment law and overtime cases, the lawyers we recommend will work on a contingency basis if the dollar amounts owed are large enough. In other words, if you are missing just one paycheck it's probably not a realistic option for you. In child support cases, it's rare to find a lawyer to work on a contingency unless we know the money is there and can be collected. We recently helped a mother in a child support case who was owed $50,000.00 find a lawyer on a contingency basis. We were able to do that because the father had a pending personal injury lawsuit and we knew we could get the judge to order that our client be paid first.
Lawyers are prohibited from handling a divorce or criminal case on a contingency basis. Illinois attorneys also don't handle defense of civil lawsuits on a contingency basis because there would be no way to get paid.
The fees that a lawyer charges for a contingency case depends on the type of case and risk involved. In workers' compensation, the law limits the fee to 20% of any settlement. In medical malpractice cases, the law limits the fee to 1/3 of what is awarded to the plaintiff at trial or negotiated in settlement. In most other matters, the custom percentage is one-third of what is recovered. If you are talking to a lawyer that wants to charge more than that amount, you should really consider shopping around.
If you have any questions about finding a lawyer on a contingency basis or would like an attorney referral please do not hesitate to contact us.
Since 2001, illinoislawyers.com has been the leading resource for Illinois attorney referrals and legal guidance. We have helped thousands of people find contingency lawyers in Chicago, Wheaton, Waukegan, Springfield, Belleville and almost every other county in Illinois. See for yourself why access to our site is like having a lawyer in the family.