Payment of a personal injury lawyer is linked to which side of the case the lawyer represents: the injury victim or the person who caused the injury.
Legal Fees for Personal Injury Cases
In personal injury cases, lawyers and their clients have a certain amount of freedom in negotiating legal fees for services rendered. However, it is typically connected to whether the client is a plaintiff (the injured victim filing the lawsuit) or the defendant (the person alleged to have caused the injury).
When Lawyers Represent the Plaintiff
Generally, lawyers who represent the plaintiff are paid through contingency fee agreements, meaning the lawyer handling the case does not receive a fee for his or her legal services unless the case has a successful outcome and recovery for the client. Typically, fees are based on a percentage (about 33% or 40%) of the amount recovered through a court trial or settlement agreement, but there are different arrangements that may impact payments:
- Sliding Scale Contingency – This type of contingency arrangement puts the percentage on a sliding scale, with the percentage increasing as litigation progresses.
- Hourly Contingency – With this arrangement, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer does not get paid unless a recovery is won for the client. An hourly contingency arrangement is unlikely unless the plaintiff has the ability to recover attorney’s fees from a losing defendant.
- Mixed Hourly/Contingency – With this arrangement, a lawyer’s hourly rates for work completed are reduced, even if the case is lost. However, the attorney receives a “bonus” contingent on winning or settling the case.
When Lawyers Represent the Defendant
For defense lawyers who represent the alleged perpetrator of the injury, the majority of fee arrangements are linked to “billable hours.” For instance, if a lawyer spends 60 hours on a case and charges $250 per hour, the attorney’s fee will be $15,000. However, modified hourly fee arrangements may impact payments. These include a retainer, where the defendant pays the lawyer an upfront lump sum payment as a retainer, then the lawyer withdraws funds from the retainer as work is completed; a blended Hourly arrangement, which usually applies when more than one personal injury lawyer is working on the case; and an hourly Cap, which works like a straight hourly fee arrangement, but there is a cap on the maximum amount of money the attorney can bill the client for particular legal matters.