What Does it Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
If you have suffered a personal injury, you might imagine that you cannot afford a lawyer. If you have a strong claim, however, you don’t necessarily need a dime to hire a lawyer. For most personal injury lawyers it is the strength of your claim that matters, not the thickness of your wallet. The reason for this emphasis is that a successful personal injury claim generates income with which to pay legal fees.
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How the Contingency Fee System Works
Almost all personal injury lawyers charge on a contingency basis. A contingency fee is a percentage of whatever amount the defendant pays you for your claim. It might be one-third, for example, if your lawyer settles your claim, or it might be 40 percent if your case goes all the way to trial.
Either way, your lawyer will deduct that percentage from the amount that the defendant eventually pays you for your claim. After your lawyer further deducts expenses, you will pocket the rest. This system gives your lawyer every incentive to maximize the size of your settlement or verdict. After all, the more you make, the more your lawyer makes. That is what puts you two on the same side.
The Variable Contingency Fee
Following is an example of a variable contingency fee:
- 40% of the first $1,000,000,
- 30% of the second $1,000,000, and
- 20% of any amount over $2,000,000.
Under this arrangement, if you won more than $2,000,000, you would need to perform three calculations to determine how much you owe. Some lawyers use this system, so check your fee agreement carefully before you sign it.
How Lawyers Handle Expenses
Legal fees are not the only fees that a personal injury case might generate. Your case will inevitably generate some expenses. The amount of these expenses depends on the size and complexity of your claim. Below are some examples:
- Copying and postage fees for documents such as your medical records,
- Costs of gathering evidence,
- Court costs,
- Deposition costs (including the cost of a court reporter),
- Expert witness fees,
- Investigation expenses,
- Travel expenses,
- Trial preparation expenses.
- Police reports, and
- Trial exhibits.
In more complex cases, your total expenses might exceed $10,000. Lawyers typically deal with expenses in two ways:
- They charge the client for these expenses as they arise. You might have to deposit a retainer with the law firm.
- They deduct expenses from the final settlement or verdict. In this way, you won’t need any money upfront.
Many lawyers consider the treatment of these extra case fees to be negotiable.
Hourly Rates and Flat Fees
You might run into a personal injury lawyer who doesn’t charge on a contingency basis. A description of two alternative fee structures appears below:
- An hourly rate: A lawyer is likely to charge several hundred dollars per hour for personal injury legal services.
- A flat fee: The lawyer will quote a specific total amount for handling your case ($10,000, for example).
Your lawyer’s refusal to charge on a contingency basis should raise a red flag because it means your lawyer will still charge you even if they lose your case.
How Lawyers Decide How Much to Charge: Ethical and Regulatory Restrictions
The Oklahoma Bar Association regulates legal fees in Oklahoma, and it places restrictions on how much your lawyer can charge you. Although the Bar Association does not set a formal maximum for legal fees, it does require them to be “reasonable.” A lawyer can calculate their fee after considering the following factors.
- The difficulty of the case;
- The likelihood that if the lawyer takes the case they will miss other opportunities from potential clients;
- How much other local lawyers charge for similar cases;
- The amount of the claim;
- The results (victory is a prerequisite to a contingency fee, for example);
- Time limitations (whether the lawyer has to rush);
- The length of the professional relationship between the lawyer and the client;
- The lawyer’s ability,
- The long-term relationship between the lawyer and the client, if any; and
- The risk of loss (because the lawyer earns nothing in an unsuccessful case based on a contingency fee arrangement).
The lawyer must put the fee agreement into writing, state its terms clearly, and secure the client’s signature.
How Lawyers Earn Their Fees
Good lawyers work hard for their money. Following is a list of some of the services that a dedicated personal injury lawyer will provide:
- Performing an investigation. This means taking statements from witnesses, photographing the site, obtaining the police report, creating diagrams of the accident, etc. All of this helps determine how the accident happened.
- Evaluating the defendant’s liability. The investigation helps uncover facts. The evaluation stage aims to clarify the legal issues that the facts raise. Your lawyer will apply the law to the facts to generate an argument.
- Calculating your damages. Your lawyer will review medical bills and expenses, expert evaluations, and other documentation. They will also talk to you about the pain and suffering you are experiencing. If your disability is permanent, your lawyer will calculate your estimated future damages, which is a difficult undertaking.
- Negotiating your claim with the opposing party. Typically, the opposing party is an insurance adjuster, not the defendant. Insurance adjusters are professional claims negotiators, and your lawyer needs to be one too. Remember, your lawyer cannot settle your case without your permission.
- Filing a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit is not like filing a claim in small claims court. You must draft a formal Complaint with great care. Every sentence matters and a single mistake could spell disaster for your claim.
- Executing the pre-trial discovery process. This means conducting depositions, sending and answering written questions (interrogatories), and demanding access to physical evidence, among other activities. Your lawyer must collect all this evidence, make sense of it, and use it to generate a compelling argument.
- Representing you during mediation. Oklahoma courts love mediation because it reduces the size of their dockets. You can be sure that the court will favor medication, and it might try to pressure you to accept it. Alternatively, you might choose medication instead of a trial. Either way, you should allow your lawyer to represent you during mediation proceedings.
- Representing you at trial. Most personal injury claims never make it to trial. However, if yours does, you will certainly need an attorney to represent you.
- Executing documents. After a settlement or judgment, the parties’ attorneys exchange certain documents. Your lawyer will receive the funds from the defendant and disburse your portion to you.
Your lawyer might engage in a variety of other activities, depending on the nature of your claim.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer for Assistance
Contingency fees range from 20% to 50%. Although this may sound like a lot, consider whether it would be worth it if your lawyer could triple or quadruple your recovery. The presence of an experienced personal injury lawyer can make a vast difference in the opposing party’s willingness to settle your claim for a fair amount.
The attorneys at McGuire Law Firm enjoy over 60 years’ worth of combined experience. Additionally, Mr. McGuire spent 13 years defending insurance companies, and he knows how they think.
Contact us by calling 405-369-6419 or contact us online for a free initial consultation. If your injuries prevent you from coming to us, we can come to you.