What Does a "Contingency Fee" Mean?
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Imagine you have been seriously injured in an accident and unable to work as a result. The medical bills begin to pile up on top of your normal bills and payments. You want to hire an attorney but are hesitant because you don't think you can afford to right now. However, hiring a personal injury lawyer is not as expensive as you might think. In fact it shouldn't cost you a penny.
Personal injury lawyers almost always accept cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning you are not required to pay the attorney's fees until you recover against the party you are suing. If there is no recovery in your case, you do not have to pay any attorney's fees. If you do recover against the other party, your lawyer will charge you a certain percentage of what you recover as their fee.
The percentage of the lawyer's contingency fee varies from state-to-state and depending on the type of case and facts. Typically in Illinois attorneys charge between 1/3 to 40% of the total amount they recover for you. Unless your case is unusually complex or the time to sue is running out, if the attorney wants more than that you should keep looking and quite honestly almost every attorney we recommend charges between 30-33%.
The contingency fee, which covers the attorney's fees, is different from the costs associated with your lawsuit. The lawyer pays certain costs, such as the filing fee, copies of police and medical reports and expert witness fees, as they crop up during your case.
Your attorney may require reimbursement for these expenses out of your settlement, or ask for the money up front. If they want money up front we see this as a bad sign for two reasons: it could mean that the law firm doesn't have the money to back a case, meaning they won't be able to afford to take your case to trial and get you the highest settlement possible, or they aren't established.
If your attorney asks for money up front or money from your settlement for costs, we suggest you call our office to speak with our staff lawyers to see if there is a better option for you. The Illinois personal injury lawyers we recommend that work on a contingency basis practically never ask a client to pay for such expenses. They can do this because they are well established and have had years of success.
Personal injury lawyers working on a contingency basis bear all the risk. They can put in hours and hours of work and thousands and thousands of dollars in costs to prepare a case for trial. If they don't win, they don't get paid. All the work and expense were for nothing.
To avoid this problem, the personal injury attorneys we know are very careful about the cases they accept. They know that juries are not inclined to award damages to people who aren't truly and seriously injured. Additionally, the potential defendant has to have the funds to pay a judgment. Even if you can prove the defendant committed the crime against you and caused significant damages, if they have no money or insurance you likely cannot collect from them. However, if you are injured at work you can expect your employer has insurance and the ability to pay whatever damages they caused.
Contingency fees are confusing. A good attorney will take the time to explain how things work to you. If you would like our lawyers to answer any questions you have or provide you with an attorney referral, please contact us. We will do whatever it is we can to help you.