Lawyers and law firms can be charge legal fees in different ways. Lawyers who work on contingency generally agree to work on the case for a percentage of the recovery or damages awarded. Usually, the percentage is between 5-50%. The term “contingency” means that the payment of legal fees is dependent on the outcome of the case or lawsuit. If the plaintiff loses the case, then the lawyer is paid nothing.

How much do Contingency Lawyers Charge?

It depends on the case. Some lawyers may have different layers or tiers to their fee structure, even when working on a contingency basis. For example, if the case is settled before trial, the lawyer may charge 20-25%, since they did not have to go through all the work of a trial.  

If the case is won at trial, they may charge a higher percentage, because trials demand a lot of work on the lawyer’s part. If the case is appealed, fees can be even higher, because the lawyer must work hard to see the case through the final decision.

How is the Percentage Determined?

When agreeing to work on a contingency basis, a number of factors are considered before determining exactly what percentage the fee will be. Some of these factors may include:

  • Time and labor;
  • Difficulty or complexity of the legal issues;
  • Relationship with the client;
  • Any limitations that the case or client may have; and
  • The skill, experience, and reputation of the lawyer.

The lawyer will make an educated guess about how complicated the case will be and how long it will take for the case to be completed (whether they think it will settle before trial or go all the way to a final judgment at trial). It’s a balancing act — lawyers are more likely to work on a contingency basis if they think that the expected award at the end of the case is significant enough to make it worth their while.

What Types of Lawyers Work on Contingency Fees?

Lawyers who practice in various fields work on contingency fees. You may have seen advertisements on television — lawyers who say that if you don’t win your case, they get nothing.  

Generally speaking, personal injury lawyers have a reputation for working on contingency, largely because their clients are regular people who have been hurt and may not be able to afford an attorney otherwise.

Cases in employment law, like employment discrimination, are sometimes handled on a contingency basis. Like in personal injury cases, these clients tend to be regular people who may be unable to afford legal services without the contingency arrangement.

Other attorneys who work on cases involving sexual harassment, professional malpractice, or debt collections may work on a contingency fee as well, especially if they feel that there is a good chance of a large settlement or a win at trial.

When are Contingency Fees not Allowed?

There are some instances when contingency fees are not allowed. If the case is an obvious, clear-cut win, the lawyer should assign a reasonable hourly rate based on an estimate of how much work will go into the case. The rules of professional ethics do not allow lawyers to work on contingency in family law or criminal law cases (doing so would appear to condone divorce or criminal activity).

Will I Get Monthly Bills from a Lawyer Paid on Contingency?

Getting monthly billing statements is never anyone’s favorite part of the legal process. Usually the billing aspect depends on the agreement you have with your lawyer. You may find it helpful to see a monthly invoice to see how much time and resources your lawyer is spending on your case. Even though your attorney does not get paid until the end of the case, you may still be responsible for certain costs incurred during the course of the case, such as filing fees or expert fees.

Once you find an attorney who will take a case on an contingency basis, it is still important that you ask questions. Generally, it’s a good idea to ask about how the lawyer will approach your case, your likelihood of success, how much the lawyer expects you’ll receive in damages, and even a fee estimate. You may want to ask specifically about any filing fees or expert fees that come up in the course of your case (since there’s a possibility that you may be responsible for those fees).  

While your lawyer cannot make any guarantees about how successful your case will be, asking these types of questions can give you an idea of what to expect going forward.

Can I Change Lawyers If My Current Lawyer Is Working on Contingency?

Yes, you can change lawyers. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. When you change lawyers, the first lawyer will likely still be owed compensation for the work that they’ve already done on your case. The longer the lawyer has worked on the case, the more money they will be entitled to.

You’ll want to take a look at the contract you have with your first lawyer. Some contracts will have a “termination” provision that governs what happens if you end your affiliation with the lawyer. If there is a termination provision, the first lawyer may still take their portion of the eventual award (depending on how the provision is written). If there is no such provision in the contract, you can ask your new lawyer to negotiate with the previous lawyer regarding compensation, or simply pay them what they’re owed.  

Should I Hire a Lawyer on a Contingency Fee Basis?

If you have a situation where you need legal help, but you aren’t sure how to afford legal fees, you may want to contact a local lawyer and ask whether they work on a contingency basis. The right lawyer by your side can help you navigate the legal system and work with you to get the best possible outcome for your case.