How do personal injury lawyers get paid? (A discussion of contingency fees).

If you’ve been injured in a car accident (or some other accident) due to someone else’s negligence, you may be looking for an attorney.  Naturally, you’re also likely asking, “how much do I have to pay the lawyer to help me out?”  It’s a great question, and you should ask it upfront.

No, you don’t have to pay a personal injury lawyer upfront.

Typically, injury lawyers work on “contingency fee.”  What that means is you don’t pay them up front, but instead they lawyer is paid a percentage of what you get paid at the end of the case.  Unlike if you have a criminal attorney, who will make you pay say $5,000 at the outset of a DUI case or a divorce attorney, who will make you pay a retainer of $10,000 and bill against that hourly, injury lawyers typically wait to get paid at the end of the case.

How much is the contingency fee?

This differs among firms. Generally speaking, the “industry standard” is 33% (or 1/3) of the entire funds coming in from the case (through settlement or verdict at trial.  Some firms charge higher rates, others charge lower rates.

At Abrenio Law, we take a sliding scale approach, depending on the type of case.  For car accidents, unless otherwise agreed upon, we will typically start of with a 25% contingency fee.  It stays at that rate until we get within 90 days of a trial date (so, that means the case has been filed, we obtain a trial date, and we are then within that 3 months of trial).  At that point, our fee increases to 33%

The reason we take this approach is we believe that if we can get a case settled sooner, and with less work for us, the client should get a benefit. However, once we get within 90 days of a trial, that’s when a lot of work is done in preparation of the case.  And, of course, trying a case expends a lot of effort justifying a fully 33% fee.

What about the costs of litigation? Who pays for those and when?

When you hire an injury attorney, there will be more costs to pursuing your case than just paying the attorneys.  These costs include paying for medical records, filing fees, court reporters, expert witnesses, subpoenas, etc.  Depending on how deep your case goes into litigation, these costs can climb very high.

At Abrenio Law, for most costs, we pre-pay these litigation costs.  Then, at the resolution of the case, we are reimbursed out of the settlement (or verdict) proceeds.  Given this, unless otherwise agreed upon, you don’t even pay litigation costs upfront.

Sometimes we ask for you to pay litigation costs upfront.

While this is rare, sometimes we ask our injury clients to pay (or contribute) to upfront litigation costs.  These cases are typically ones in which we believe the likelihood of success is risky.  If we expect you to pay costs upfront, we will specifically have this discussion with you before costs are spent. So, it will not come as a surprise to you.

Wow, contingency fees are expensive?!

Yes, you are exactly right.  Whether it’s 25%, 33% or more, these are big numbers, and you were the one that was injured.  However, remember that when we take on your case, we may end up working on your case and see $0.  Afterall, there is no guarantee to win any given personal injury claim. 

Additionally, cases typically take many months and some multiple years.  This is time we are working without being paid for our services.  And, on top of that, we are likely fronting the cost of your litigation.  Therefore, we take on significant financial risk with each case that we take on.

How do I know what funds I will see in my pocket at the end of my case?

At least here at Abrenio Law, before we settle your case, we will provide you with a breakdown of the overall settlement, our attorneys fees, litigation costs, and a rough estimate of what you should expect to take home if your case settles.  We will also likely provide you several scenarios as we proceed with settlement negotiations to help you determine whether it makes sense to settle your case versus going to trial.

More questions?

James Abrenio is an award-winning Fairfax Personal Injury & Criminal Defense attorney.  Abrenio Law handles cases throughout Northern Virginia.  If you have additional questions, reach out to as at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your Free Consultation.  You can also email James directly at james@abreniolaw.com.