Let’s start with an imaginary scenario before we move on to the topic of negotiating personal injury lawyer costs. Suppose someone met an accident where the other driver was at fault. What will they do in this scenario? They will file a personal injury lawsuit. When that case moves to the court, they will require a lawyer to represent them. The question to consider here is, how much they are ready to pay the lawyer. To reach a reasonable estimate, they will need to know the fees charged by a personal injury lawyer.
The Basic Fees Structure of an Accident Lawyer
The basic fee-structure that a personal injury lawyer follows is unique. They don’t charge by the hour, as is the norm for most of the other types of cases. In cases of accidents, the main component of fees that the lawyers charge are known as Contingency Fees. Apart from the contingency fees, there are some other types of fee arrangements that the plaintiff needs to pay for, from time to time, during the proceedings. In the later segments, we will have an in-depth look at all these sub-segments of the accident lawyer fees.
Contingency Fee for hiring
A contingency fee arrangement implies that the plaintiff – the injured person in this case – will only pay their lawyer once they receive the settlement amount or the jury award. The rate at which the plaintiff will pay his lawyer has to be decided beforehand.
States have got their specific rules as to how much the possible percentages for contingency fees should be. These rates vary within the range of 30 to 45 percent. The most common percentage rate is 33% or one-third. But, the exact rate would vary from case to case, depending on how further the case goes, before a verdict or settlement is reached.
When drafting a contingency fee agreement, lawyers and law firms draft an agreement that includes a detailed roadmap of how much would be charged and at which stage. The standard levels that are generally followed as protocol are as follows:
- 33% of the jury award or settlement amount if the parties agree to settle the case during the initial process before a lawsuit is filed.
- 40% of the jury award or settlement amount if the plaintiff and the attorney agree upon filing a lawsuit.
- 45% of the jury award or settlement amount if the case lingers to an appeal or second trial.
The actual rate of contingency fees depends on the nuances of the case and the complexities that may arise while fighting the case on the floor of the court. For example, if the damages are clear, and there is plenty of evidence to back up the claim, one can finalize with the lawyer at a lower rate. Similar lower rate agreements can also be reached if the defendant has got a sufficient amount of car insurance.
The Distribution of Fees and Expenses
There are various litigation expenses involved in a personal injury case. While drafting the contingency fee agreement, the plaintiff should be clear about which of these expenses will be covered under the contingency fee payment. Examples of such litigation expenses could be as follows:
- Fees for employing investigators and experts.
- Fees to officially file the case in the court.
- Costs of service and subpoenas.
- Fees paid to obtain police and medical records.
- Fees of court reporters
The plaintiff and the attorney or the law firm should also strike a definitive agreement on the schedule of payment. Some accident lawyers or law firms expect that the client would pay for these items as and when the scope arises. Some lawyers or law firms cover these costs when they occur and later deduct them from the settlement amount.
If none of these expenses is included in the contingency fee, the plaintiff would have to pay for these costs as a reimbursement amount over and above the contingency fees.
Other Types of Fee Arrangements
Although the contingency fee is the most common type of accident lawyer fee arrangement, many lawyers often follow different routes of fee collections as well. Some lawyers take an upfront retainer fee along with the contingency fee. This retainer fee is later subtracted from the contingency fee. For example, if a client pays the lawyer an upfront retainer fee of US$5,000. Now, after the resolution of the case, the fee of the lawyer comes to US$50,000. In this case, the lawyer deducts US$5,000 and accepts US$45,000 as his/her final fees.
In most car accident cases, the lawyer or the law firm does not go for a flat fee. A flat fee is only applicable in cases where the lawyer or the law firm is providing some basic and limited type of service such as drafting and responding to demand letters. In such cases, the fees range typically from US$300 to US$1,000.
Negotiating with a Personal Injury Lawyer
There is always an element of tension when it comes to the interpersonal dynamics of an injured person and his or her accident attorney. The plaintiff, that is the injured person, in this case, wishes to get as much money as possible. The plaintiff fears that if the case settles quickly and in a hassle-free way, they would end up overpaying the attorney.
On the other hand, the attorney fears that they may end up incurring expenses during the case, which won’t be recovered if the case does not end in recovery. Since there are doubt, suspicion, and fear of losing money on both ends, it is always better to get the negotiations done on all aspects of the future dealings before the proceedings start.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask
If you think your case has enough evidence to back up your claim and prove the damages, don’t hesitate to tell that to your law-firm beforehand. Many law firms are ready to negotiate their fees based on the merits of the case. It is always better to finalize an adjusted rate rather than asking for a lowering later.
Get to Know the Accident Lawyer’s Fees Collection Plan
It may sound a bit weird but in some cases, it may so happen that the lawyer does not collect his or her fees from the plaintiff. The provision in such cases is to collect “reasonable hourly fees” from the losing side. The state of Texas expanded upon its “loser pays” rule in 2011. It is, therefore, always prudent to ask the lawyer beforehand about how he or she is going to collect the lawyer fees.
Try to Locate the Most Appropriate Attorney for Your Case
To begin with, if the lawyer is free, open, and transparent in discussing his or her fees beforehand, the lawyer can be deemed a professional Yet, discussing fees freely is not the only criteria on which your selection should be based.
To select the most efficient one from the options available, it’s better to adopt a structured approach. The first and foremost task is to list the parameters that help to gauge the efficiency of the lawyer. Such parameters could include the lawyer’s experience with your type of cases, his or her accessibility, whether the lawyer is licensed to practice in your state or not, etc. The next is to make a list of available lawyers and rate each one of them on the above-mentioned parameters. To make an extensive list, you may ask for referrals, explore lawyer directories, and search them on google.
Once each of the lawyers has been rated, shortlist at least five of them based on their rankings and do a credibility check on each one of them. Ways to check credibility may include reading their bios/reviews, checking their bar association affiliations, reading online reviews about them, etc.
Once you have completed all these steps, call the lawyers’ offices and seek their appointment. After talking face-to-face with each one of them, finalize on the one you feel would be the most fitting to go with. The last stage is to sign the contract. Remember, the contract should be transparent, mindfully evaluated, unambiguous, and something that both the parties agree upon without any hesitation.
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