You suffered serious injuries in an accident. You know that an attorney can help you pursue compensation for your injuries. But you worry about the potential cost.
Just how much does a personal injury lawyer cost, anyway?
A quick search of attorneys’ hourly rates can leave you discouraged. They seem like way more than you can afford after suffering serious injuries that have left you out of work with bills piling up.
Here’s some good news: hiring a skilled personal injury lawyer costs far, far less than you might think. In fact, you might say it costs nothing at all unless you get paid first. Here’s why.
Start With a Free Consultation
Many people have little idea what to do next when they suffer serious injuries in an accident caused by someone else’s dangerous decisions or conduct. Whether you had a severe accident with a big truck that left you with a traumatic brain injury, or suffered a slip and fall in a public place that left you with a broken hip, you know you deserve compensation for your injuries. Many victims, however, do not know the answers to simple questions like, “How much compensation do I deserve after my accident?” or, “Who has legal liability for the injuries I suffered?”
Meeting with an attorney can help you begin to answer those questions. Even better, most experienced personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation where you can ask your questions without having to worry about the cost of the lawyer’s time. By offering free consultations, attorneys aim to make it easy for people like you to find experienced legal help. For more answers to your legal questions review our personal injury FAQ.
Contingency vs. Hourly vs. Flat Fee
Personal injury attorneys overwhelmingly represent clients on a contingency basis, which is one of three common types of payment arrangements between lawyers and clients. Let’s take a look at each type.
Contingent Fee Arrangements (or Working On Contingency)
The vast majority of personal injury lawyers represent their clients for a contingent fee (also known as working on contingency).
A contingent fee is just what it sounds like: a fee that the lawyer earns only if the lawyer can recover compensation for the client’s injury. Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the attorney-client relationship, the lawyer and the injured client sign an agreement that establishes a percentage cut the lawyer keeps as a fee out of any money the lawyer’s efforts achieve for the client. Today, lawyers and clients often agree to a sliding scale percentages based on the amount of money recovered and/or how much time or work it takes to achieve a successful outcome.
The personal injury lawyer and client also agree, in writing, on how to handle expenses relating to the client’s case, such as court filing charges, expert witness fees, and travel costs. Some lawyers will agree to cover these expenses themselves, to be reimbursed out of any recovery for the client. Sometimes the client will agree to pay some or all of these expenses. Either way, it all gets addressed in writing, at the beginning of the case.
Why would attorneys work for a contingency fee?
Two reasons: giving clients access to justice, and lining up the attorney’s interests with the client’s.
Victims of personal injury need legal help at the exact moment in their lives when they can least afford to pay a lawyer to work for them. By agreeing to work on contingency, lawyers give cash-strapped clients access to top-notch legal representation without a significant (or often, any) up-front cost. By working on contingency, lawyers also line-up what they want out of a case with what the client wants: the most money possible, as efficiently as possible. Attorneys who do a good job for their clients reap the rewards. It’s a win-win.
Hourly Fee Arrangements
Although personal injury lawyers rarely work for an hourly fee, charging-by-the-hour is a common fee arrangement between clients and many other types of attorneys. In an hourly fee arrangement, the attorney charges an hourly rate for all work performed for a client. The attorney sends the client monthly bills for those services, and also often obtains a retainer payment from the client as an advance payment against future hourly work.
Depending where they practice, the type of legal matters they handle, and their level of experience, attorneys who bill their time charge anywhere from a few hundred dollars per hour to over a thousand dollars per hour. As you might imagine, hiring an attorney to work for you at those rates often translates into eye-popping legal bills.
Hourly fee arrangements suit lawyers' interests well when they have paying clients. These arrangements do not work out so well when clients cannot keep up with payments, or when the client feels like the attorney’s work does not deliver good value. One common complaint from clients of lawyers who bill by-the-hour is about receiving bills for legal services even when nothing has happened in the client’s case.
Personal injury attorneys generally avoid billing by-the-hour because many clients cannot afford to pay an attorney that way. By working on contingency instead, personal injury attorneys make their services available to anyone who needs them, and match their own interests to their clients’.
Flat Fee Arrangements
Lawyers who work for a flat fee charge their clients a fixed, up-front fee for a specific type of work. Flat fees are a common way for lawyers to charge for handling routine matters that involve a predictable amount of work. Lawyers often charge a flat fee for preparing a will, for example, or for handling a drunk driving accident defense case.
Clients tend to prefer flat fees to paying lawyers by the hour, because the flat fee puts a cap on their legal costs and shifts the risk to the lawyer if a matter takes more work than the lawyer expects.
Personal injury lawyers, however, rarely work for a flat fee, because their clients cannot necessarily afford to pay the fee up-front, and because they cannot always predict how much work a personal injury matter will require to achieve a successful result for a client.
Can You Afford Not to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Even after learning that a personal injury attorney costs them nothing up front, and that the lawyer only gets paid if the client gets paid, some personal injury victims still wonder whether they need to hire a lawyer to help them recover compensation. They wonder whether they can simply handle their personal injury claim on their own, and save themselves from paying a percentage of their compensation with an attorney.
We certainly understand the impulse to save money. However, trying to manage a personal injury claim without an experienced personal injury attorney on your side is a bad idea. In our experience, it almost always costs the injured victim far more money than they save.
Or, to put it another way, hiring an experienced personal attorney is the only reliable way to obtain maximum compensation for your injury (yes, even after paying a percentage of your recovery with the lawyer).
6 Reasons Why Hiring a Lawyer Is Worth It
Here are just a few of the ways that hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer to handle your compensation claim can pay dividends:
- Lawyers ensure you seek the full value of your claim. Many personal injury victims, in our experience, have little to no idea how much compensation they have a right to receive for their injuries. Some understand that they deserve compensation for their medical expenses and lost wages, but even so, they do not have a firm grasp on how to estimate their financial needs or losses into the future. They also rarely have a strong sense of how to put a value on their non-economic damages, such as pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life. An experienced personal injury attorney, by contrast, has years of practice in investigating and uncovering all of the different ways an injury has harmed a client, and in placing a dollar value on that harm. Hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer, in other words, helps to ensure that a victim seeks the maximum compensation available under the law.
- Lawyers identify all parties with potential legal liability for a client’s injuries and losses. Personal injury victims may seek compensation from anyone who has legal liability for their injuries. In many cases, more than one individual, company, or government agency has legal liability for the harm the victim suffered. It is not always obvious to the victim, however, who those parties are. In fact, the victim might not even be aware of their existence. For example, the victim of a car accident may not know about all the different parties liable for the crash, but may not realize that the driver’s employer, or an auto parts manufacturer, or even a local government road agency, also may have legal liability. By hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer, the victim can rest easy knowing that the lawyer will find all parties who have legal liability for the victim’s injuries and losses, which allows the victim to seek compensation from as many sources as are available under the law.
- Lawyers collect, organize, and present critical evidence. You need evidence to prove that someone has legal liability for your personal injuries. Most people, however, do not know what specific evidence they need, much less how to get their hands on it. Experienced personal injury lawyers know all about collecting evidence to prove a client’s case. They know what documents, testimony, and physical items they need, and they know the best ways to organize and present that evidence to prove to insurance adjusters, defense lawyers, judges, and juries that their client deserves maximum compensation.
- Lawyers negotiate settlements. Insurance companies want to reduce their financial liability as much as possible. Some will contact accident victims soon after an accident and make a settlement offer that fails to reflect the amount of money the victim really deserves for injuries, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This settlement offer often sounds tempting at first, since it can put money in victims’ hands fast at a time when they desperately need every penny. Unfortunately, over time, victims who take the money find that they needed far more compensation than they received, but that they cannot get more because in accepting the settlement they signed away their legal rights. Experienced personal injury attorneys handle negotiations on their clients’ behalf, fighting for every last dollar of compensation clients deserve and ensuring that clients do not make the costly mistake of jumping at a lowball settlement offer. Have an attorney review your settlement.
- File and pursue lawsuits, if necessary and appropriate. The courthouse is no place for a DIY project. To obtain compensation through a lawsuit, personal injury victims need the representation of an experienced trial lawyer who understands how courts operate, and what kind of evidence and argument convinces a jury to award maximum compensation to a personal injury victim. People who try to go it alone in a lawsuit inevitably make costly mistakes, and no one takes them seriously, which always leads to a disappointing (if predictable) result.
Lawyers give clients peace of mind and reduced stress throughout the claim process. An attorney can take much of the stress off of a client’s shoulders at a time when the client needs to focus energy on healing from an injury. By handing negotiation and communication with insurance companies and defense lawyers over to an experienced attorney, victims free themselves to go spend time regaining their health and rebuilding their lives.
In other words, experienced personal injury lawyers perform tasks that most ordinary personal injury victims cannot hope to handle on their own, and maximize the value of the victim’s claim.
If you suffered an unexpected injury because of someone else’s wrongful actions or decisions, then do not worry about the cost of hiring a lawyer. Thanks to free consultations and contingent fee arrangements, you can afford to hire a top-notch personal injury attorney to handle your claim. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer today for a free consultation about your right to recover compensation for your injuries and losses.
The Levin Firm
1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd,
Two Penn Center, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19102