Accident Lawyer Fees - Negotiating Personal Injury Lawyer Costs

Accident Lawyer Fees - Negotiating Personal Injury Lawyer Costs

How much do accident lawyers charge? What are an auto accident attorney’s fees? And how do I talk to a lawyer about costs?

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An injured person sits down and tries to find the best accident lawyer to handle their case.

They've seen the ads on TV and billboards around town.

They've looked through the search engines and found an array of personal injury attorneys advertising themselves as experts.

But as you struggle to handle bills and medical expenses after a car accident or other injury, you may be wondering:

What does a personal injury lawyer cost?

Digging deeper, it quickly becomes apparent that many law firms see the issue of payment differently.

Most personal injury lawyers, as is the norm in the industry, handle fees on a "contingency basis", meaning they only take a portion of the settlement or verdict if they're successful in getting money for the client.

The percentages, however, are all over the place—and some accident lawyers have hidden costs.

The situation can be baffling.

Why does one firm only work on contingency, while another expects certain costs to be paid in advance? Is there really a benefit to be gained from working with a practice that wants 40% of the recovery versus one that only wants 25%?

Accident attorney fees, explained

During your initial call or consultation with an attorney, be sure to ask about their fee structure—specifically:

  • Contingency vs. hourly or flat fee
  • Upfront costs
  • Fee changes for going to trial or other conditions
  • Expenses charged separately

If you like the firm but aren't thrilled about their fees, consider how much room you have to negotiate.

Contingency-based fees - what are they?

The majority of injury law practices work on contingency.

This means that you, as the injured party, agree to pay a portion of any compensation that's recovered to the firm when the case is settled or a verdict is handed down.

"Contingency" means you pay a portion of compensation from your case to your lawyer, but owe no fees upfront. Tweet this

There are several reasons why most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis:

  • Firstly, a lot of injured people end up in situations where they simply cannot afford to pay for legal counsel upfront due to medical bills and lost work time.
  • Secondly, it provides the attorneys an incentive to work harder to achieve a higher settlement amount.
  • Thirdly, the risk of higher settlements and verdicts can drive insurance companies and responsible parties to choose to settle sooner.

Accident attorney fees and what to look for

There are several things to look out for when considering the fees you're expected to pay your lawyer.

The first issue is upfront costs.

Most injury practices offer free initial consultations, so you shouldn't have much trouble at least finding someone to talk to regarding the merits of your injury claim.

Secondly, you'll want to ask the accident attorney what their fee is. Around 33.3 percent is considered a typical starting point for contingency fees in Texas and many other states; however, there is no standard fee across the industry and this percentage can vary by firm.

Some firms will raise the fee if the case has to go to trial, and they may also require you to pay expenses.

Intense competition in the legal field is driving fees down, with some firms now going as low as 15%.

Generally, if a case is smaller, the firm will want a greater portion of the recovery in order to be fully compensated for its time.

Enjuris tip: Generally, if a case is smaller, the firm will want a greater portion of the recovery in order to be fully compensated for its time.

It is possible to find injury law practices that work on hourly or flat rates. You should be prepared, however, in this scenario to put up a lot of your own money early on in the process.

It's also likely that the practice taking on your case will want you to pay for investigators, travel and other expenses upfront.

Negotiating with a personal injury attorney

You always have the right to attempt negotiation with your lawyer; however, there are a few things to consider before you begin asking them to accept less money.

There is a natural tension between the client and the attorney when dealing with legal fees. Plaintiffs don’t want to be stiffed of their winnings, and lawyers don’t want to miss out on what they are due for their hard work.

As an injured person, you'll likely wish to get as much money as soon as possible in your own pocket to pay for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other costs resulting from your injury.

From the attorney's perspective, the fear is reversed.

A personal injury lawyer worries that he or she may end up shelling out money to pay for specialists and expert witnesses to testify, only to ultimately end up footing the bill if the case results in no recovery.

As with almost any deal, you should shop around when searching for an attorney. If you can find several similar law firms in your part of the state to take on your case, it's prudent to find who has the most advantageous fee structure.

Enjuris tip: Even putting in an additional week of searching for the right lawyer could yield significant benefits in terms of lower fees or better representation.

If you like one firm's service but want a lower fee, don't be afraid to ask. If you have a good case, there's a chance that the firms you're talking to will be willing to budge a bit on fees in order to get your case.

But keep in mind that time is always of the essence. In Texas, for example, statutes limit your time to file a claim to 2 years from the date of the injury. You're also likely already dealing with a lot of bills, and you may be depending on compensation to pay these off.

Your lawyer may not have to even charge you a single penny.

In some cases, the attorney may not have to even charge their client a single penny. In these cases, the attorney collects a “reasonable hourly fee” from the losing side.

The circumstances tend to be strict, but Texas, for example, expanded upon its “loser pays” rule in 2011.

Enjuris tip: While your attorney may not charge you directly, there’s a possibility you would have to include as income the fees they collect from your settlement, if your settlement or verdict is taxable. See taxation details on our blog here.

If you are in a situation where you must have an attorney represent you, do not be afraid to ask the attorney how they plan on collecting their fee and getting paid for representing you.

Don't shy away from discussing fees with your attorney.

Money is an uncomfortable subject for many people. However, it's always best to get a clear and accurate picture of expectations from both sides.

Discussing fees with your attorney is also a good way to gauge how well your lawyer will treat you and how open they will be regarding their services.

Enjuris tip: Talking about fees is a necessary way to get a sense of how your potential lawyer will treat you when you're working together. For example, are they forthcoming with details or hoping you'll simply trust them?

If the lawyer has no problem talking about fees, then this indicates that they are a professional working in accordance with the rules - and he or she should be able to put you at ease when discussing their fees, too.

Furthermore, don't be afraid to request an attorney fee agreement in writing. An ethical, professional lawyer should provide his or her fee agreement in writing.

Finding the right accident attorney is worth putting in the extra time

The biggest challenge when negotiating fees with an injury attorney is that the situation is inherently unfair. Injured people are among the most financially vulnerable, due to loss of work and accumulated medical expenses.

Obtaining counsel on contingency makes it possible for injured individuals who are in a tough financial position to move ahead with their accident case.

Within the limits of your situation, including time and money problems, try to patiently contact and negotiate with a lawyer who you're comfortable dealing with.

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