If you’ve been involved in a car accident and have considered hiring a legal representative, no doubt one of the first questions you’ve asked yourself is, “How much is this going to cost me?” While this question can’t be answered with 100% certainty (situations and locations may vary enough that these guidelines don’t apply in some instances) in most cases the answer falls somewhere along the lines of, “It depends on how much money you get to begin with.” This is because, in most cases, lawyers will charge what is called a contingency fee.
What is a contingency fee?
A contingency fee is a fee that is charged to the client only if money is actually won. So, if you go to trial and end up not winning your case for whatever reason, then in most situations you don’t have to pay your lawyer anything.
If you win, on the other hand, then your lawyer takes a percentage of however much you are awarded by the jury. The amount that a lawyer is allowed charge for a contingency fee can vary from state to state, but it typically falls somewhere between 25 to 40%. The usual fee is right around one-third, or 33%.
Of course, this is a number that is subject to change. For example, the actual amount of the fee might change depending on whether a case actually goes to trial. If, for example, the other party decides they would rather settle out of court, then the allowable contingency fee might decrease a little, since the full extent of your lawyer’s services were not needed. However, if the case ends up going to trial, then that percentage may also increase.
What other fees might get charged?
In some instances, a lawyer might also charge a small retainer fee — a small amount of money paid upfront. In these circumstances, the retainer fee is usually rolled into the final contingency fee (so, for example, if you pay your lawyer $1,000 up front, and then win $100,000 in a case, the fee that goes to the lawyer — $33,000, maybe — will already include your initial $1,000, so you don’t end up paying more than you should).
In all cases, though — and this is the most important thing — fees are typically negotiable and should be discussed up front. Don’t wait until halfway through your trial preparation before you decide you’re not willing to pay what is being asked. Save everyone time and hassle and be honest with each other about what is expected. That way, you can get the unpleasant discussions about money out of the way early, and focus on winning your case.