How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?By Stewart J. Guss on June 26th, 2020
How Much Does it Cost to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer
Many circumstances in life require a lawyer—or at least thinking about hiring a lawyer. Folks involved in a car accident, facing a divorce, considering bankruptcy, arrested on a “driving while under the influence” (DUI) charge, drawing up a will, incorporating a business, and much more can all find lawyers helpful, if not downright necessary.
The biggest question on everyone’s mind when considering hiring a lawyer is: How much will a personal injury lawyer cost me? Many worry that they might not even be able to talk to a lawyer without getting a sky-high bill.
We understand where these concerns come from – and we have some good news for you. When it comes to hiring a Texas personal injury lawyer, the cost is zero unless the lawyer gets results.
Different Types of Lawyers Charge Differently
Two key facts a lot of people do not realize about lawyers are as follows: One, there many different types of lawyers and areas of law, and two, depending on their type, lawyers charge their clients in different ways.
“Wait a second, what do we mean by type of attorney? Don’t all lawyers pass the bar exam?”
Well, yes and no. We do all have to pass a test to get a license to practice law, but we don’t all end up doing the same kind of work.
In the old days, lawyers known as “generalists” did a little bit of everything. They might write up a will for a client in the morning, and defend a different client against criminal charges in the afternoon.
These days, generalists are mostly a dying breed, except in the most rural parts of the country. Far more commonly, today’s lawyers focus their work on one or two specific areas. You have tax lawyers, business lawyers, wills and trusts lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, and personal injury lawyers. Each of those types of lawyers tends to charge clients a little differently.
An Initial Consultation Is (Usually) Free
All types of lawyers tend to share one common practice: most offer a 100% free initial consultation for new clients. You can talk to a lawyer about a legal matter you might want them to work on for you, and it usually won’t cost you anything.
Note that we say “usually.” Some lawyers do charge for an initial consultation to avoid having people take advantage of them by trying to get free legal advice. So, even though most lawyers do not charge for a first meeting, it’s always a good idea to confirm this before you show up.
Why do most lawyers offer a free initial consultation? Simple: Lawyers are in business, and they need to attract clients. The free initial consultation gives the client a risk-free way of seeking a lawyer’s help and ensuring they’re a good fit.
What happens at an initial consultation with a lawyer? The potential client tells the lawyer about a problem or issue. The lawyer asks questions to determine whether or not they can help, and if so, they’ll discuss the potential costs involved. Think of it as a job interview, where you’re the boss.
Just as the types of lawyers differ, so do the dynamics between potential clients and lawyers in an initial consultation.
Businesses often have a good idea of the type of legal services they need and what they want to accomplish when they sit down in an initial consultation.
In contrast, personal injury victims tend to only have a general sense of how a lawyer can help them, or what steps need to be taken next. All they really know is that they’re hurt, and that they need compensation from the person who hurt them. A lawyer in a personal injury initial consultation may spend a lot more time than other kinds of lawyers explaining how the process works, especially if the victim has never been in an accident before.
How Lawyers Charge for Their Work
When the client decides to hire a lawyer, the two of them enter into an agreement that goes by various names, including a retention agreement, a legal services agreement, and a fee agreement. No matter what you call it, the agreement lays out what the lawyer has agreed to do for the client, and how the client agrees the lawyer will get paid.
Here’s a brief rundown of the three most common legal fee arrangements.
Contingency Fee (This Is How Personal Injury Lawyers Charge)
In many ways, the least expensive lawyers are personal injury lawyers! How so? Because they work on contingency, which means you do not pay them a penny up-front. Instead, their fee is contingent on them obtaining money for you. In other words, they only get paid if you get paid!
Here’s how it works. The agreement you sign with the attorney specifies a percentage the attorney will receive of the total amount of money recovered on your behalf. The lawyer agrees to work for you in hopes of earning that cut. Lawyers and clients often agree to a sliding scale of percentages based on the amount of money recovered and/or the amount of work or time it takes for the lawyer to obtain it.
The agreement also lays out how the lawyer proposes to pay for your case’s administrative expenses, like court filing fees, document copying, and travel. You might agree to pay those expenses out of your own pocket, or the lawyer might agree to front them for you, in which case the agreement will also explain how those costs get reimbursed in addition to the lawyer’s percentage fee.
That’s pretty much it. Once you sign a contingency agreement, the lawyer gets to work on your behalf and builds your case. You pay the lawyer nothing upfront, which gives you access to top-quality legal services without a heavy hit to your finances. Your best interests and those of your lawyer match up perfectly: the more money the lawyer obtains for you, the more money the lawyer earns.
Hourly Fee (We Do Not Charge This Way)
Traditionally, lawyers charged clients by the hour. This remains a common fee arrangement in many attorney-client relationships. Since fees commonly reach hundreds of dollars per hour, this billing method can lead to legal fees that seem to climb and climb, with no end in sight.
In a typical hourly fee billing arrangement, lawyers will often ask the client to pay a retainer at the beginning of the representation. A retainer is simply an advance payment for the lawyer’s future work, which the lawyer holds in an escrow account and bills against on an ongoing basis. Lawyers who handle multiple matters for a single client may even charge a monthly retainer as payment for a fixed number of hours of work per month.
Personal injury lawyers virtually never charge their clients by the hour. Hourly billing gets expensive for clients, many of whom already find themselves struggling financially after an unexpected injury. We prefer to give our clients access to our top-quality legal work without forcing them to pay legal fees they can’t afford, and we invest our efforts wholeheartedly in achieving a rewarding outcome that helps them get their lives back on track.
Flat Fee (We Do Not Charge This Way, Either)
Lawyers whose work involves a high volume of the same type of case or task may offer to charge clients a flat fee for legal services, such as:
- Filing for an uncontested divorce
- Drafting a will
- Representing the defendant in a first offense DUI or other routine criminal matter
- Preparing and filing a patent, copyright, or trademark application
- Handling a residential real estate sale and closing
Clients tend to like flat-fee arrangements because they are predictable and they cap costs, but many lawyers shy away from them unless they feel absolutely confident in the amount of work a representation will require. A flat fee shifts the risk of a case that requires lots of work onto the lawyer. No matter how much time or effort a case takes, no matter how many twists and turns arise, the lawyer gets paid only the previously agreed-upon fee.
Personal injury lawyers generally do not charge flat fees. We work on contingency so that our clients do not pay anything upfront. The harder we work at recovering maximum compensation for our clients, the more we might earn for ourselves in the end.
Not Hiring a Lawyer Costs the Most of All
Folks considering hiring an attorney for a personal injury matter should also consider the potentially catastrophic costs of not hiring a lawyer. Without the help of a skilled personal injury attorney, injured clients don’t know what they’re owed, or how they can pursue it. They’ll miss out on the full amount of compensation they need and deserve.
Injured people need an ally who not only knows their rights, but knows how to protect them. It takes the training and know-how of an experienced personal injury lawyer to identify – and quantify – all the ways an injury affects a person’s life. From there, they must find evidence to prove those categories of damages. Without the help of an attorney, injured people often under-value their claims, get taken advantage of by insurance adjusters, and ultimately leave money on the table.
Insurance adjusters and defense attorneys have one mission in a personal injury case: to dodge responsibility and therefore avoid paying injured victims. Personal injury attorneys have heard all the tricks in the book, from making insultingly low offers to attempts to get the injured person to say something that might undermine a claim or implicate them. Attorneys for injured people know how to steer their clients away from these hazards and keep their legal rights well-protected.
The fact is, most people do not have a deep enough knowledge of the law to get themselves the money they deserve in a personal injury case. Plus, they have a lot on their plate already, dealing with the physical and emotional struggle of recovering from their injuries. That’s why the old lawyers’ adage that “He who represents himself has a fool for a client” still rings true today. Our emotions mislead us, and we tend to overestimate our own abilities. Lawyers represent our interests and protect us from others – and from ourselves – when important legal rights are on the line.
Do Not Fear the Costs When It Comes to Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer!
Let’s take a look back at what we’ve learned. First, lawyers come in various types, and the kind you want after suffering harm because of someone else’s careless, reckless, or intentionally harmful actions is called a personal injury lawyer.
Lawyers charge their clients in different ways, depending on the types of legal services the lawyers provide. Most will offer a free consultation, but that is where the similarities stop. Virtually all personal injury lawyers work for a contingency fee, meaning they do not get paid unless their work achieves a financial recovery for their clients. This manner of compensating a lawyer means that injured people can get top-quality legal services without paying a penny in up-front costs, and lawyers have strong incentives to get the most money possible for their clients.
Finally, we’ve learned that the most costly decision you can make is going without a lawyer altogether. Always entrust your personal injury case to a lawyer who has represented people like you, with a track record of successful settlements.
In short, if someone’s negligence left you injured, you have nothing to lose by contacting an experienced personal injury attorney today.