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Written by: Steven R. Clawson
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Contingency Fee Contracts

Has anyone ever told you that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? That might be true. But when you arrive at the restaurant, no one asks you for a deposit before the staff will seat you. In fact, most of the time they don’t even bring you the bill until you’ve savored that last bite of dessert. Then why should you have to front thousands of dollars when you need a lawyer after you’ve been injured in an accident? Good news: you don’t have to.

How can I hire a personal injury attorney if I don’t have money?

If you have a personal injury case, there is a way for you to get the legal help you need even if you don’t have money in the bank. It might sound too good to be true or simply unbelievable, but in California, it’s actually common. What makes this possible? Contingency fee contracts. When you work with a lawyer under a contingency fee contract, you pay nothing until the case ends and the attorney recovers a sum of money on your behalf. If you don’t win your case, you owe nothing.

What does a contingency fee contract look like?

California state law requires that certain elements are included in all contingency fee contracts.

  • All contracts must be in writing so that there is official documentation of what each party has agreed to. You (the injured person) must be provided a copy of the contract signed by both you (or a guardian/representative if applicable) and the attorney.
  • All contracts must clearly explain how the money recovered will be disbursed. This obviously includes specifying what percentage will be paid to the attorney (the contingency fee). It also must explain how reimbursement for case expenses, e.g., court fees, expert witness consultations, medical reports, etc., will affect the client’s recovery. For example, if the legal team advances $500 for an expert witness and the client is awarded $25,000, will the contingency fee be assessed on $25,000 or $24,500? It is important for this to be clear to all parties.
  • All contracts must outline the responsibility of the client to compensate the attorney for any related matters that come up during the case. For example, if your attorney resolves a lien claim by your insurance company, will you be charged for that? The answer must be clearly explained in your contract.
  • All contracts must include a statement that the fee listed is negotiable between the lawyer and client and not set by law.

What happens if a contract doesn’t meet the requirements?

These standards are there to keep you safe. Always ask questions and be sure you understand the contract before putting your signature on it. However, if for some reason a contract does not meet the legal requirements, the client may void the contract and the court will determine what is a reasonable fee for the attorney.

How much will I have to pay?

If you’re concerned that nothing will be left for you, think again. Ethical law firms will never take a fee that’s larger than what you take home at the end of the day, even if this means they voluntarily reduce their fee from the standard one-third fee. There are also legislative safeguards in place that limit the money medical providers and health insurance companies can claim from your settlement. Remember, you will pay nothing until your attorney wins your case and money is coming your way.

I really don’t need money to hire you?

Legal help should not be reserved for the rich and famous. Contingency fee contracts are common in California to enable any wronged person to seek justice. If you think you have a personal injury or related case, you may qualify for a contingency fee contract. Contact us for more details. You won’t pay a dime until we win your case.

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