What Does Contingency Fee Mean?

Attorneys charge for legal services in several different ways. The types of fee agreements used by attorneys include hourly fees, fixed rates, and contingency fees. Fee agreements should always be in writing and set forth all terms regarding payment for services and costs.

Most San Diego personal injury lawyers use contingency fee agreements to charge for their services. These agreements make it easier for accident victims and injured persons to obtain the legal representation they need to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit. 

If you are concerned about how much it costs to hire a personal injury lawyer, continue reading to learn more about how contingency fees can help you.

What is a Contingency Fee?

A contingency fee is a form of payment for legal services. The attorney agrees to provide legal representation for a client. As payment for legal services, the client agrees to pay the attorney a percentage of any money that the attorney collects on behalf of the client.

Contingency fees are used in all types of personal injury cases, including but not limited to:

Under a contingency fee arrangement, you do not pay any money until your case settles or a jury renders a verdict. The attorney deducts their legal fees from the proceeds before transferring the remaining amount to you. 

If the attorney does not recover money for your injury claim, you do not owe any attorneys’ fees.

How Does an Attorney Decide What to Charge for a Contingency Fee?

Attorneys set their fees and rates based on many different factors.

Some of the factors that affect attorney rates include, but are not limited to:

  • The geographical area where the attorney’s office is located
  • The lawyer’s education and skills
  • An attorney’s experience and special certifications
  • The lawyer’s experience and success rate in court
  • The parties involved in the case and the complexity of the issues 
  • The anticipated duration of the case 
  • The contingency fees charged by other attorneys for similar legal services

The contingency fee agreement could contain a clause that makes the attorney’s fees slightly lower if a settlement agreement is reached before the trial begins. This scenario requires less of the attorney’s time than if the attorney has to complete all of the work to take a case to trial.

However, not every case will involve a lower fee for settlements. Even settlements in complex cases require time, expert negotiation skills, and attorney resources. Each case is unique. The important thing is to make sure you understand what is included in your specific fee agreement.

As an attorney pursues an injury claim, there are expenses and costs associated with the claims process. The costs of the case are separate and apart from the attorneys’ fees. An engagement letter should spell out the fee agreement should state who is responsible for paying these fees and when payment is to be made.

Examples of costs and expenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Court filing fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Copies and postage costs
  • Deposition and court reporter fees
  • Costs of the investigation
  • Expert witness fees
  • The costs to obtain copies of accident reports, medical records, and other documents 

Attorneys handle costs and expenses for injury cases differently. Some attorneys may cover these costs for you upfront and deduct them from your settlement proceeds. Some attorneys deduct the costs before taking out the contingency fee, and some take costs out after. It makes a difference in your net proceeds, so be sure you understand the fee arrangement in your case.

Other lawyers may require clients to deposit an amount with the law firm. The amount is held in trust. As the attorney incurs costs, he bills the costs against the amount held in trust. The client must maintain a minimum amount in the trust account for costs.

Some law firms bill their clients for costs as the costs are incurred. The clients are required to pay the costs within a specific period. 

In addition to asking about how the costs are paid, make sure to ask if you owe the costs if the attorney loses your case. You could be responsible for the payment of the costs and expenses of the case even if the attorney does not recover any money for your claim. 

Choosing an Attorney to Represent You After an Accident or Injury

Attorneys’ fees and costs are just one factor to consider when hiring an accident lawyer.

Other factors to consider include:

  • How many years the attorney has practiced law
  • If the law firm has the resources to handle a complicated injury case
  • Whether the attorney has trial experience 
  • The attorneys’ overall success rate for personal injury cases
  • Whether the attorney handles injury cases similar to your case
  • How well you get along with and communicate with the lawyer

You may want to meet with several personal injury attorneys in San Diego before deciding which attorney you want to hire. Compare qualifications and fees, as well as personalities. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose.