Do I Have to Pay a Personal Injury Lawyer Just to Find Out if I Have a Case?
An initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer should never cost you any money. If a personal injury lawyer tries to charge you hourly fees for an initial consultation about a personal injury claim, then you should seek assistance elsewhere.
Skilled personal injury lawyers offer free consultations because they know you face tough financial circumstances right now. They want to make it easy and risk-free for you to sit down with them to discuss whether you have legal rights to compensation for your injuries and losses.
Most personal injury lawyers will meet or speak with you wherever, whenever, and however is most convenient for you, even if that means coming to your home or hospital room, or connecting via Zoom or Skype.
Free initial consultations are how personal injury lawyers generate business for their law practice. Personal injury lawyers do not make money on an initial consultation.
Understanding the Main Types of Attorney Fees
Three main types of personal injury attorney fees exist in the United States -- (1) hourly, (2) contingency, and (3) flat. The litigation’s nature, such as personal injury, product liability, or food poisoning, generally dictates the type of fee agreement charged.
Hourly rates often require the client to pay for several hours upfront for legal services, known as a retainer, and then compensate lawyers on a sliding scale for every hour worked after that. Most law firms charging clients court filing fees send clients monthly statements setting forth the hours worked, tasks completed, charges incurred, and balance owed. Some attorneys work out payment plans with clients, but it’s difficult to anticipate the number of hours needed in a single case.
A complicated legal counsel issue may arise, costing clients twice as much as they expected. Typical hour rates depend on the attorney’s location, experience, and area of practice, but they generally range in money from $150 to $500 per hour.
Cases traditionally handled with an hourly fee agreement to the client include:
- Criminal defense
- Child custody
- Patents, copyrights, and trademark applications
- Civil and corporate defense
- Business advisory matters
- Tax advice and defense
In some cases, a successful client may recover their legal rights and legal fees from the other party based on the terms of a contract, statute, or court rule. However, attorneys should make clear to the client that judges typically have discretion in civil rights matters. Retainers for hourly fee arrangements with the client should contain the attorneys’ rates, the representation’s scope, and any anticipated charges.
Related Article: Civil Rights vs Human Rights
A contingency fee agreement is a fee structure where the attorneys take a certain percentage of their client’s overall financial recovery if they cannot afford up front payment. As the name suggests, a contingency fee arrangement with the client is conditional. Lawyers take the risk when accepting cases on a contingent basis with their client because if they fail to recover compensation, the lawyers do not get paid.
A contingency fee approach gives a needier client the chance to pursue legal counsel without any upfront costs. Contingency fee law firms typically front the money for fees and expert witness expenses. Importantly, a successful client in a contingency arrangement must pay back these costs to injury lawyers at the end of the case and may not generally recover attorneys’ fee in addition to compensatory damages.
A flat fee typically means that the injury lawyers charge a fixed, total fee for legal advice. A lawyer may charge a flat fee if your case is relatively simple or routine. Simple cases might include:
- Writing a basic will
- Overseeing a real estate closing
- Medical malpractice
- An uncontested divorce
- Power of attorney
It is important that you ask exactly the lawyer what services and expenses are covered and what are not. Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that one flat fee may only cover certain things, and a client may need to pay a lawyer more for additional services.
It never hurts to compare fees over a legal issue from lawyer to lawyer. However, in addition to fitting your budget, the most important thing to look for in a lawyer is how well they fit the needs of your case.
Related Article: What Is a Partition Lawsuit? (How Does It Work)
Costs You Agree on in Advance
Many costs a lawyer charges in a personal injury or medical malpractice case are quite standard, and often a lawyer's initial written agreement will include them. This billing includes things like copying, long-distance phone calls, and filing fees. Other expenses may not be so crucial—but can be expensive. So your lawyer should spell out in detail what percentage costs they will charge before going ahead and incurring them.
These lawyer fees might include such things as depositions, hiring investigators or experts, and scheduling special proceedings. The simplest way to handle the issue of lawyer billing is to set a dollar limit beyond which the lawyer must get your approval for any percentage.
Types of Work Personal Injury Lawyers Do Before Recovering Fees on a Contingency Basis
Exactly what a pro bono personal injury lawyer does to secure a percentage of compensation in a contingency arrangement varies widely from case to case, depending on the injuries their clients sustain, the circumstances of those injuries, and the parties who may owe money damages for their clients’ injuries and losses.
In most cases, however, personal injury lawyers working on contingency will often perform the following tasks before billing:
To build a successful contingency fee personal injury case, a lawyer must first learn what happened and identify who the responsible parties are before getting paid. This almost always requires medical and forensic investigation.
In a contingency investigation, lawyers collect and analyze medical evidence that can prove the chain of events leading to an accident, the nature of a client’s injuries, and the identity of any entity who should pay damages.
This process requires interviewing witnesses, reviewing legal documents, tracking down and evaluating medical data, and preserving physical items so that a forensic expert can examine them.
Claim Analysis and Planning
Once lawyers have the facts in hand, they will apply their knowledge and training to figure out the best strategy for securing compensation for their clients before getting paid. This strategy can differ from case to case and client to client, depending on a wide range of factors including:
- When and where a client suffered an injury or loss
- The numbers, types, and financial resources of the parties who may owe damages
- The amount of time that has passed since the accident or incident that caused the injury
- The amount of evidence the lawyer obtained through investigation
Lawyers then explain that strategy and any options or alternatives to their clients. Ultimately, the client always gets to decide whether to move forward with any strategy the lawyer proposes.
Executing the Strategy
If a client approves the strategy, the lawyer then prepares and files the necessary paperwork for taking legal action. This often involves submitting claim documents to insurance companies, and following up with the at-fault parties to seek additional information and evidence on which to build a case.
Related: What Happens After a Deposition?
Negotiating a Settlement
Most personal injury cases are resolved through a settlement process in which the party with legal liability agrees to pay damages to the injured party, in exchange for the injured party releasing the at-fault party from future liability. Lawyers for the personal injury victim typically negotiate settlements with the at-fault party’s defense lawyer and insurance companies.
The lawyer communicates all settlement offers to the injured client and offers advice about whether to accept or reject them. The client always gets the final say on whether to agree to a settlement.
Going to Trial
When at-fault parties refuse to make a fair and reasonable settlement offer, lawyers for personal injury victims may advise them to take their case to court to present it to a jury in a trial. At a trial, the lawyer for the injured client presents evidence to prove why the at-fault parties should pay damages, and how much money they should pay.
Before collecting any compensation for their services, attorneys for personal injury victims who succeed in securing payment for their clients through a settlement or a jury award take the steps necessary to collect the money owed to their clients.
In many cases, money gets paid when the parties sign a settlement agreement. In some cases, however, the lawyer must take further action to collect the debt owed, which may include seizing the at-fault party’s assets or making filings in a bankruptcy case to make sure the at-fault party pays what is owed.
The lawyer for the personal injury victim only collects a retainer fee when the money arrives from the at-fault party and/or that party’s insurance company or medical provider.
What if a Personal Injury Attorney Does Not Practice in Your Field?
It is possible that you may contact attorneys who don't represent the field your case falls into. If this happens, some lawyers, like those at Schmidt & Clark, LLP, can help refer you to a lawyer who does represent your field, and can offer the skill and experience you need to make your case as strong as possible.
Trusted law firms receive many consultation requests from other attorneys, so it’s understandable that they need to limit their consultations to only those that fall under their area of practice. You should be able to tell what types of law attorneys practice based on their firm’s website, but if it is still unclear you can always contact them for clarification before requesting a consultation.
To learn more, contact Schmidt & Clark, LLP, directly by calling 866-588-0600 or by filling out the contact form at the bottom of this page. The consultation services are free and confidential, and you owe no out-of-pocket attorney fees.
What Could Happen if You Don't Hire a Lawyer
Without legal representation, you could miss a due date for forms or documents, causing delays in your case or even a ruling that is not in your favor. The most common problem that comes up among those who don't hire lawyers is total confusion as to what they need to do to close out the case. You could end up in limbo, not sure what to do next or where to go for help.
Why You Should Hire a Lawyer
When you use a lawyer in any type of legal proceeding, you have someone on your side who understands the complex legal system. Even something that seems simple, like filing for custody or going through a divorce, can quickly become complicated and overwhelming. Courts in different states require different documentation and forms to be filed, and most people just don't have a firm understanding of these requirements.
When you work with an experienced attorney, he or she will understand what is necessary and how to handle all requirements properly and on time. Your lawyer can also help break down complicated legal forms, terms, and discussions for you.
A recent study conducted by the Insurance Research Council found that those who obtained legal representation received 3.5 times more settlement money in personal injury cases than those who did not.
Why is the Cost of a Lawyer Important?
Understanding the cost of a lawyer before the clients enter into an agreement can help prevent unpleasant surprises or costs that you cannot afford. Some people might start working with an attorney, only to find that the fees are mounting dramatically. The clients don't want to put undue financial strain on themselves or their family, nor do they want to have to file bankruptcy or take other legal measures to get out of debt.
Expenses and court costs add up quickly, so clients should talk to any potential lawyer in detail about expected hour fees and costs up front. Get a written estimate from the attorney and make sure it includes things like delivery charges, time spent on the case by paralegals and/or legal secretaries, and filing fees. If these aren't included on the written estimate, make sure to ask.
It's also important to make sure that the cost of the lawyer is worth the overall cost of the case and what the clients could recoup. For example, if the clients file bankruptcy for a debt of $15,000, they probably don't want to hire a lawyer whose estimate comes in at $10,000.
Get a Free Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers
The Personal Injury and Product Liability Litigation Group at our law firm is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of clients in lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new cases in all 50 states.
If you or a loved one think you may have a claim, you should contact our law firm immediately for a free consultation. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a lawsuit, and our lawyers offer you fair compensation.