When a legal concern or dispute comes up, many people give up on fighting back because they believe they cannot get the legal help they need to resolve their claims. For many, the financial obligations of hiring an attorney can deter them from consulting with one.
If you have no money to pay a lawyer upfront, you are not out of options. Depending on your legal matter, getting an attorney to represent you might cost you nothing-especially if you are dealing with a personal injury.
The Financial Arrangements to Hire a Lawyer Depends on Your Type of Case
Lawyers can work under various financial arrangements. The payment arrangements for legal services can depend on many factors. The type of case you are disputing, the complexity of the matter, whether it is a criminal or civil case, the amount of money involved, if there are multiple parties to a case, the experience and track record of a lawyer, etc.
It is impossible to go over every scenario that could affect how a lawyer can charge you, but attorneys use some common payment arrangements. Ultimately, an attorney’s preference guides how they bill their clients and what they will charge, but these are some examples of common payment arrangements for lawyers and how they work.
#1. Flat Fees
For simple legal matters, a lawyer may opt for a flat fee. They will set a price for their services, inform you what their service will entail, and you will pay for the service in its entirety. They may ask you to pay the fee upfront or in installments during certain stages of the case.
#2. Hourly Rates
In this arrangement, an attorney will charge the client for the length of time to work on a case. The attorney will have an hourly rate that they will bill for each hour spent on researching, litigating, or working a case for each client.
#3. Retainer Fee
A retainer is usually combined with an hourly payment agreement. Due to the unique billing structure of hourly work and charges, an attorney may request that a client make a lump payment upfront of a certain amount to retain the attorney.
As an attorney works on the case, the attorney will deduct hourly charges as they accrue from the initial payment. This is a common arrangement for clients that use attorneys frequently, such as for business matters and other legal matters that may require routine legal advice or representation.
#4. Contingency Fee
In this arrangement, a lawyer will charge a client a percentage of the compensation a client receives in a case either through a settlement or an award by a court. This is a common arrangement with disputed liability and an insurance payment or court award may go to the plaintiff.
The payment to the attorney in this arrangement, however, is contingent on a successful outcome. If the attorney cannot get the client a successful resolution and the client does not get compensation from a defendant, then the attorney’s legal fees go unpaid, with no recourse against the client.
An attorney and client cannot enter into contingency fee arrangements in all types of legal matters. Certain laws prohibit contingency arrangements for some areas of the law, such as for criminal cases or those involving the custody of children.
#5. Other Payment Arrangements
Some lawyers may not choose either of the traditional legal fee arrangements and may prefer a hybrid or combination of payment arrangements. Regardless of what preference a lawyer has, you must understand their fee agreements before you sign any contract for their services.
#6. Other Fees to Consider
Beyond the attorney’s fees, you must keep in mind that there are other potential expenses or fees that you as a client must pay. Some lawyers may charge you a consulting fee just to discuss your case. Although some lawyers may offer free initial consultations, those that do not will expect payment of a consultation fee whether or not you hire them or if they accept your case.
Expenses for a case are often a separate billing matter. This can include charges for printing, office charges, record retrieval costs, expert fees, filing fees, costs for court support, and other processing fees.
Your Options if Your Case Is a Not a Personal Injury Matter
If your legal matter does not involve a personal injury or another area where a lawyer accepts payment on contingency, you may face hurdles in getting representation without an upfront payment. This, however, should not be a deal-breaker. There are situations in which many lawyers are willing to work with their clients through payment plans, lawsuit loans, or under a pro bono arrangement.
If you need an attorney but can’t afford one at the moment, you can contact various organizations in your community for financial assistance or reduced-rate legal representation.
Resources that can provide low cost or no-cost legal representation for non-personal injury cases can include:
- Legal aid
- Court-appointed attorney
- Pro-bono lawyers or organizations
- Law school legal clinics
Your Options for a Personal Injury Case
Most lawyers that represent clients in this area of the law will treat the payment in these cases differently. If you believe you are a victim of someone else’s negligence and you sustain damages or injuries, you can be eligible for compensation under the law.
Most reputable personal injury attorneys work only on a contingency fee basis. Common examples of personal injury matters include car accidents, slip and falls, dog bites, nursing home negligence, and products liability.
How Does a Contingency Fee Arrangement Work?
Personal injury attorneys that work on contingency will not ask you to make any payment upfront to hire one to represent you in a negligence case. The process of hiring a personal injury attorney first requires you to set up an initial case evaluation or consultation where you will meet with a lawyer to discuss your case in more detail.
Most personal injury attorneys do not charge for first-time consultations. Many advertise that they offer free consultations to clients considering pursuing a personal injury case. You should not, under any circumstances, pay a consultation fee for a personal injury matter where you are the victim.
During the initial consultation, the lawyer will learn the facts of your case, and you can discuss the likelihood of recovery and the possible compensation available to you. At this time, a lawyer may also inform you if they are in a position to accept your case.
If the lawyer will represent you, you can decide if you will hire the attorney. Once you decide on an attorney for a personal injury case, you will enter into a contingency fee agreement that delineates the fees you will pay for services and under what conditions.
What Contingency Fee Will Your Lawyer Will Charge You?
A contingency fee agreement will spell out the details of how much and when your lawyer will receive payment for their services in your case. Contingency fees can vary and differ depending on if your case settles, if the case must go to trial or if there is an appeal. Your contingency fee agreement will lay out the percentage in each situation.
Another important aspect of this agreement is your financial obligation or responsibility if your case is unsuccessful. While you don’t need to pay for the attorney’s fees in a personal injury case that does not result in compensation to you, there are circumstances in which you might be responsible for expenses in the preparation of your case outside of the attorney’s compensation.
To avoid surprises, ask your lawyer about his/her position on these expenses should you not receive compensation in your case.
Why Would a Lawyer Want to Work on a Contingency Basis?
The reality is that whatever way you look at it, a contingency fee is a risk to the attorney representing a client in a personal injury case. There are no guarantees in personal injury matters, so why would an attorney choose to work without payment in the hopes a case will succeed.
To answer this question, you need to know if a lawyer can or cannot take a case. While every personal injury case involves risk and there is no way to know if a client will receive compensation or how much compensation, an experienced personal injury attorney knows what a case is worth and the likelihood of its success.
When a personal injury attorney decides to take a personal injury case, it is because he/she sees the positive potential outcomes for the client, which in turn means a positive outcome for the attorney through the payment of the provided services.
No attorney will take all cases. If a lawyer takes your personal injury case, they think they can help you get a successful resolution in your case. That is not to say that every case an attorney takes on will win, but you have a much higher chance of success in your case with an attorney than going forward without one.
When Will Your Attorney Get Payment for Their Services?
Once you settle a case or a court enters a verdict in your favor, your shift may focus on how you will pay your attorney. Fortunately, for you, there is little you will need to do or worry about to ensure that your lawyer receives payment for their services.
In most circumstances, compensation will first go through your attorney’s office to account for all fees and expenses before the money arrives in your hands. This is common practice and no need for concern as an attorney must notify you when they receive the money and will discuss with you the total compensation that will pay their fees and expenses and the remaining amount they will transfer to you.
Do I Need to Pay Other Fees Aside From the Attorney’s Fees?
Yes. The contingency fee percentage covers your attorney’s fees. However, you may need to pay other expenses in personal injury cases from your settlement or court award. When your case is successful, you should expect that the payment of expenses will also come out of the total compensation in your case, in addition to the attorney’s contingency fee percentage.
Common expenses other than attorney’s fees in a personal injury case can include but are not limited to:
- Copies and printing
- Office support expenses and supplies
- Expert testimony
- Fees for medical records, police records, or other records pertinent for your case
- Research services
- Investigative services
- Preparation of exhibits
- Travel expenses if necessary
How Long After an Injury Should You Contact a Lawyer?
If you are in an accident or suffer an injury that you believe is the fault of another party, you must act fast to protect your rights. If an insurance company is a party in the matter, your case and claim can begin to develop in just hours after an incident and you may need to decide rather quickly whether or not you will get the help of an attorney.
If you suffer an injury that causes significant financial and personal damages, do not take an unnecessary risk in your case. Get a free consultation with a personal injury attorney to discuss how they may fight for the compensation you deserve.