How Personal Injury Lawyers Are Paid


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As a Personal Injury lawyer, one question that I frequently get from potential new clients is how much do I charge for my legal services.  While each lawyer may have a slightly different fee arrangement, the general rule is that personal injury lawyers charge clients a fee only if they recover money for thier client.  This is called a contingency fee.  The payment of the legal fee is contingent upon the lawyer being successful in recovering money.  The fee is a percentage of the total money recovery.  The typical industry norm is 33% - 45%.  That is, the lawyer will charge from 33% to 45% of the total recovery. 

Most personal injury lawyers will pay the cost and expenses of the case up front.  In many cases serious injury cases, the personal injury lawyer will pay significant sums of his or her own money to obtain citical evidence, such as medical records, exhibits showing injuries, depositions of witnesses and expert witnesses, accident reconstructionists, scientific testing, background investigation, copy charges, and many other expenses.  Additionally, in some instances, and in states that allow it, the personal injury lawyer will pay for medical expenses and even sometimes extend loans to clients that are injured too badly to return to work.  Case expenses must be paid back out of the recovery, if there is one.  Most lawyers have a clause in thier contract that waives expenses in the event that the lawyer looses the case.  This way, the client does not owe the lawyer money.  All of the risk is on the lawyer.  Whether it be a car accident case, a Jones Act injury or maritime injury lawsuit, an 18 wheeler accident, a defective deer stand injury lawsuit, or any other personal injury matter, there is no gurantee that the case will pay.

In rare instances, the client decides to terminate the services of a lawyer and hire a different lawyer.  In most of those situations, the first lawyer will have a lien for his fees and expenses on the case.  In Texas, if the second lawyer is successful in obtaining a settlement or an Award, the first attorney will be entitled to payment of his fees and expenses.  Likewise, in certain situations in which a lawyer has been working on a case for months and years and invested money into the case, their client decides to try firing them and try settling the case on thier own in order to avoid paying thier lawyer.  However, despite being terminated from the case, the lawyer would nevertheless have a right to thier fees and reimbursement of expenses and would be able to sue both the former client as well as the defendant that failed to protect and honor the  atttorney's fees lien.  The attorney can recover not only his fees and expenses, but can also recover additional attorney's fees and possibly punitive damages as well.   For this reason, it is extremely uncommon for any halfway sophisticated defendant to settle a case in such a way to cut out any lawyer that has represented the Plaintiff for any amount of time.  ou find yourself in a situation

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have to terminate your lawyer, it is best to get them to agree to seek no fee interest or expense interest in the case.  It is critical to get this agreement from the lawyer in writing.  This document should then be forwarded to the defendant before settlement in order to avoid any unnecessary delays in the future. 

In instances in which the lawyer terminates the agreement with the client, the lawyer is typically not entitled to fees or expenses.  If a lawyer fires his client, then he will not get any money out of the lawsuit.  If your lawyer decides not to continue handling your case, it is critical that you have them state in writing that they "seek no attorney's fees and expenses and expressly waive any attorney's fee or expense lien."  Again, is is helpful for future purposes to go ahead and forward a copy of this to the defendant to avoid them trying to delay a future settlement based upon a concern over attorney's fees.

Lastly, from doing this work for years representing numerous persons in personal injury lawsuits, I have noticed that the fee arrangement summarized herein is very fair and equitable.  Some clients view the agreement as fair from the beginning, others seem a little more skeptical.  However, after the client observes the huge amount of work and effort that goes into properly handling a personal injury claim, together with significant time and money that the lawyer invests into the matter, clients nearly always feel that the agreement is fair and balanced.  Plus, tying the lawyer's pay to the outcome of the case helps both the lawyer and the client understand that every ethical effort must be undertaken to maximize the value of the case, and they are both on the same team in that regard.

Despite public perception, most personal injury lawyers are not in it just for the money.  Rather, many attorneys love to help others and feel a great sense of pride in obtaining justice.  Most of us understand that we are very fortunant to be in a situation where we make money by helping others in such an important way.  Perhaps the favorite part of most attorney's career is winning a large trial verdict for a client in a case in which a corporate defendant or large insurance company has treated them with delay and contempt. 

If you or a loved one has been injured in a personal injury matter, you may discuss your case further with me, Attorney Brian White.

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