What Does It Mean When A Lawyer Says He Will Work on A “Contingent Fee?”

I hear personal injury lawyers advertise that they will work on a "contingent fee."   What does that mean?

A contingent fee is a fee that is payable only in the event the case is successful.  No fee is owed if the case is not successful.  

In personal injury and wrongful death cases some lawyers will accept the case for a percentage of the recovery.  For example, if a lawyer agrees to accept representation in a case on a one-third contingent fee, that means that the lawyer will not charge any money if the case is lost.  If the case is successful the lawyer will be paid one-third of the total recovery.  For example, if the recovery is $60,000, the lawyer’s fee is $20,000.   If the case is lost, the lawyer charges no fee for the work performed on the case. 

The advantage of the contingent fee for the client is that he or she does not have to pay a lawyer a flat fee ( a set amount) or an hourly fee to handle the case.   Rather, he or she can wait and pay a fee at the end of the case and, if the case is unsuccessful, there is no obligation to pay any fee whatsoever.

Most lawyers who accept personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingent fee basis also charge the client money for out-of-pocket expenses that are incurred by the lawyer for prosecuting the case.  These include fees paid for expert witnesses, court reporters, creation of exhibits, case-related travel and other expenses.  Some lawyers require the client to pay these expenses as they are incurred, while other lawyers advance these costs and are re-paid out of the proceeds of any settlement or judgment.  Some lawyers will insist that the client re-pay the expenses if the case is lost, and other lawyers will agree to be responsible for the expenses even if the case is lost.  If the lawyer agrees to work on a contingent fee and accept responsibility for expenses if the case is lost, the client has absolutely no financial risk for payment of legal fees and expenses in the event the case is unsuccessful.

Any fee agreement with the lawyer should be in writing to eliminate any misunderstandings.  

I have accepted cases on a contingent fee for over twenty-nine years.  Before I accept the case, I meet with the potential client and undertake an effort to determine the merits of the case.  There is no charge for an initial consultation.  

If you want to contact me about a potential case you can call me at 615.742.4880 or email me here