A personal injury lawyer represents clients who claim they have suffered an injury, be it, physical, or mental, as the result of the negligence of another. For a personal injury plaintiff to prevail in a lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted negligently. They must also prove that the negligent behavior was the legal cause of the injury. 

Common types of personal injury lawsuits include those involving auto accidents, pedestrian accidents, as well as slips, trips, or falls. Personal injury lawsuits also include lawsuits against physicians and attorneys, in which negligence against the physician or attorney is alleged. These lawsuits are known as malpractice lawsuits. 

What Kind of Fee Does a Personal Injury Lawyer Charge?

Generally, personal injury attorneys work on what is called a contingent basis, sometimes called a “contingency basis.” That is, a personal injury attorney is not paid “up front” before work begins, but rather, is paid contingent upon the outcome of the case. If the plaintiff either settles a matter for money or a court awards money damages as compensation for injuries, the personal injury attorney receives a fixed percentage of what plaintiff settles for or is awarded.

The percentage that a personal injury attorney working on contingency receives is not “set in stone.” That is, the law does not require that the number be a specific percentage. Many attorneys charge a  “⅓” contingency fee (33 ⅓ percent). That is, if the plaintiff settles or receives a money award, the attorney will receive ⅓ of that settlement or award. 

Contingency fees typically range from anywhere from 25% to 40%. Any contingency fee arrangement must be in writing, in what is known as a retainer agreement. The client must be notified of the percentage before representation begins. The client may attempt to negotiate for a lower rate. The retainer agreement must specify the fee that the lawyer and client mutually agreed to.

A lawyer may decide to impose a high or low contingency fee – that is, an amount that is either 40% or close to 40%, or is either 25% or close to 25%. The lawyer may make this decision based on their judgment as to the merits of the plaintiff’s case. If the lawyer believes the case is particularly strong, the lawyer may charge a lower contingency fee, believing the plaintiff will obtain at least some money. If the lawyer believes the case is one that is not particularly strong, the lawyer may choose to “insure” against the higher risk, by charging a higher fee.

A contingency fee may not be excessive in amount. Factors to be considered in determining whether a fee is excessive include:

  • The time and labor required of the attorney to properly represent the client;
  • The novelty and difficulty of the case, and the skills needed for proper representation;
  • The likelihood the representation will prevent the lawyer from being able to represent clients;  
  • The legal fee customarily charged in the locality for legal services of a comparable or similar nature;
  • Any time limitations, either imposed by the client or the circumstances of the representation;
  • The nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
  • The lawyer’s experience, reputation, and ability.

What Must the Client Pay for in a Contingency Case?

Contingency fee lawyers typically do not take on cases “for free.” That is, in most contingency cases, the client is responsible for covering various expenses (costs of litigation), unless the retainer agreement indicates that the lawyer will pay for these expenses. 

Costs of litigation may include:

  • Photocopying fees;
  • Consultation fees (a lawyer in a personal injury matter is permitted to charge a flat or hourly fee for an initial consultation with a potential client. During an initial consultation, the potential client discusses the facts and circumstances of their claim, and the lawyer asks questions to obtain additional details. If, after the consultation, the person then becomes a client, the lawyer and the client may then enter into a contingency fee arrangement);
  • Fees required to file a lawsuit (filing fees);
  • Court reporter fees;
  • Fees that must be paid to obtain transcripts of depositions. A deposition is a series of questions asked by an attorney of the plaintiff, under oath, to gather evidence;
  • Fees for expert witness testimony. Experts typically charge a fee for reports they create, and for testifying in court; and
  • Fees that must be paid to receive copies of evidence, such as medical reports, and accident reports provided by a state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Costs may vary in each case, as each lawsuit will be different. State laws may also play a role in the way that fees and court costs are calculated.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Personal Injury Matter?

If you believe you have sustained injuries as a result of someone’s negligence, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you as to the strengths and weaknesses of your claim. They can also answer questions about their fee structure, and can represent you at settlement or at trial.