Will a lawyer work to get paid only if he or she wins?

In certain kinds of cases, lawyers charge what is called a contingency fee. Instead of billing by the hour, the lawyer waits until the case is over, then takes a certain percentage of the amount won. If you win nothing, the lawyer gets no fee or merely gets costs and expenses. In this way, the lawyer shares your risk of losing or of winning less than expected. A contingency fee also rewards the lawyer for helping to win a higher amount-the more the lawyer wins for you, the more the lawyer gets. This method of payment was developed to permit lawyers to aggressively represent those people who want to sue for damages but don't have the money to pay a lawyer as the case goes along.

Contingency fees are most often used in:

  • personal injury,
  • employment discrimination, harassment or wrongful termination,
  • patent or trademark infringement,
  • personal or business fraud, or unfair competition
  • false claims act,
  • class actions, toxic torts and mass torts,
  • product liability,
  • consumer protection, and
  • legal and medical malpractice cases.

The person who is suing (the plaintiff) arranges to pay based on the amount of money recovered, while the person being sued (the defendant) pays a lawyer by the hour.

How much do lawyers charge as a contingency fee?
The standard contingency fee in personal injury cases is 33% of the amount of compensation the plaintiff obtains in a settlement. Sometimes, the fee rises to 40 - 50% at a point around 60 to 90 days before the trial date.

Fees rise whether or not the trial actually takes place. The reason for this increase is that a lawyer's work increases tremendously once the case nears trial. Contingency-fee rates in other cases are similar, though they can range from 25% to 50% depending on the amount of work a lawyer must do, the potential for a large fee, and the risk of getting no fee at all.

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