I have had a law office on Main Street in Hyde Park, Vermont since 1981. It is a beautiful iconic Vermont village. We are acroess the street from the historic Lamoille County Courthouse so in winters past I didn’t have to put my winter coat on for the 60 second trip to the courthouse.
Many times over the years I explain to my clients why they can afford an attorney for their car accident or personal injury claim. They may have suffered serious injuries in an accident. A Vermont 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).
Please call David Polow today at 802-888-7707 for a free consultation.