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Attorney Fees & Expenses FAQ

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A personal injury costs as much as you agree to pay him/her, based on the contract you sign. 


Usually this is for attorney's fees plus costs.  This also means there are no upfront costs or retainer. 


Personal injury attorneys do not charge by the hour and do not collect any compensation until your case is resolved.

However, attorneys are regulated in a sense to charge appropriate fees, so personal injury attorney fees are usually similar.  Typically, a personal injury attorney works on a contingency fee basis, meaning we don't get paid until you get paid.  Our fees are a fraction of gross recovery.  Typically, this starts at 33.33%, which can increase or decrease based on the complexity of the case or the stage of litigation.

For highly-regulated areas of law, such as workers compensation, attorneys fees are fixed by statute.

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1)  How much does a personal injury attorney cost?

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A contingency fee is exactly as it sounds - the attorney's fees are contingent - or conditioned - upon the final resolution of your case.

If you are not able to reach any settlement or resolution of your case (for one reason or another) the contingency never occurs and you owe nothing to the attorney. 


In other words, attorneys fees are only collectible and enforceable if you reach a final settlement on your case.

The attorney does not get paid by the hour.

To put it in perspective, some cases can last several years before they resolve.  During that period, the attorney invests countless hours as well as his own money to cover case expenses.  Still, there's a chance the case loses or gets thrown out of court, and there is no settlement or resolution.  You owe the attorney nothing.  In this way, personal injury attorneys take on a lot of risk with each case.

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2)  What is a contingency fee?

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Contingency fees are calculated based on the terms of the contract, but this usually means they are calculated from the "gross recovery." 


This is usually defined as the gross amount of money recovered in a case.

So, if your case settles for $100,0000, an attorney is entitled to collect his contingency fee out of that total amount, regardless of other financial obligations or liens on the settlement.  If an attorney has 33.33% fee, then he/she will be entitled to $33,3333.33 contingency fee.

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3)  How are contingency fees calculated?

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In a sense, attorneys are regulated to charge appropriate fees, so personal injury attorney fees are usually similar. 


Typically, this starts at 33.33%, which can increase or decrease based on the complexity of the case or the stage of litigation.

For instance, a typical car accident case may have a fee structure of (33.33%-40%-45%).  This means that the attorney's contingency fee is 33.33% if the case settles or resolve prelitigation; contingency fee is 40% if the case settles or resolve during litigation; and contingency fee is 45% if the case settles or resolves during trial or appeal.

However, a complex product liability case may have higher contingency fees to reflect the additional time and risk the attorney is going to have to absorb.  These cases may have a fee structure like ($33.33%-45%-50%) to account for the risk.

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4)  What are typical contingency fees for a lawyer?

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Contingency fees increase at different stages in order to put the incentives in the proper context for both the client and the lawyer. 


An important principle to understand is that only the client has authority to settle his/her case - the attorney is powerless to settle a case, unilaterally.  The attorney must have the client's permission. 


And, each time the case is escalated from one stage to another, the contingency fee also escalates (i.e. prelitigation to litigation; or, litigation to trial). 


In one sense, these escalating contingency fees encourages clients to seriously consider offers to settle before escalating the case.

Escalating contingency fees also reflect the practical realities of the case for the attorney. 


Each time the case is escalated, it enters a more formalized stage of our civil justice system.  The stakes get higher, and the lawyer and his firm's resources are being directed at the case.  In short, the case becomes more taxing on the entire firm's time, energy, expertise, and resources. 


Also, the attorney is also exposed to more opportunities to fall in to many of the technical pitfalls that are often set up by the opposing parties, which increase the risk of professional liability.  These escalating contingency fees are meant to reflect that the stakes - and risks - are getting higher for everybody.

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5)  Why do contingency fees increase at different stages?

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Personal injury lawyers should not be paid anything if they lose. 


Meaning, they do not receive any attorney's fees or reimbursement for case expenses.

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6)  Do lawyers get paid if they lose?

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Generally, no, you cannot negotiate the attorney's contingency fees at the end of the case as long as a written contract exists. 


The terms of the attorney-client contract controls and is legally enforceable, so the attorney does not have to change their fees at the end of the case.

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7)  Can I negotiate the attorney's contingency fees at the end of the case?

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Typical case expenses involved in the case can be many and varying, including:

  • Postage;

  • Copying and Faxes;

  • Travel expenses;

  • Hotel & Dining expenses;

  • Medical Record fees;

  • Open Record Request fees;

  • Expert fees (consultation or testimony);

  • Witness fees;

  • Court Filing fees;

  • Deposition expenses; and

  • Trial expenses (exhibits & presentation).

Intuitively, it's easy to understand how case expenses can increase as the case escalates to new stages of litigation.

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8)  What are typical case expenses?

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It's impossible to place a number on typical case expenses because they vary so much from case to case, the issues involved, and the stage the case settles or resolves. 


Below are ballpark methods that can apply to different fees and expenses:

  • Medical Record fees:  Certified records cost $9.70;   Pages 1-20 cost $0.97 per page;  Pages 21-100 cost $0.83 per page; and Pages over 100 cost $0.66 per page.

  • Open Record Request fees:  Typically, you can expect a $5 administrative fee to process any open record request.  Then, you can expect a $0.25 charge per page.  This varies with the request and records sought, but it's a good rule of thumb.

  • Expert fees:  Litigation experts usually charge between $200-$500 per hour.  They also charge for the travel time, and deposition costs and preparation can escalate.  It's not uncommon for retained experts to cost a minimum of $10,000  - $15,000.  Complex cases can require hundreds of thousands of dollars in expert fees.

  • Witness fees:  Witnesses are entitled to reimbursement for the deposition time, which is set by statute;

  • Court Filing fees:  Filing and service fees to initiate litigation can cost several hundred dollars.  As new documents or exhibits are filed, the court is entitled to charge additional fees.  

  • Deposition expenses:  Typically, you can expect a standard deposition to cost $1,000 per deposition and transcript.  Cost variations increase or decrease based on the court reporter, length of the deposition, and number of parties.  If the deposition is video recorded, the costs increase.  So, if 5 depositions are required, expect the costs to be in the range of $5,000, total.

  • Trial expenses:  Trial expenses vary widely but it's safe to expect that total trial expenses will start in the range of $5,000 - $10,000.  This covers witness testimony fees, trial exhibits and other presentation materials, as well as other materials.

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9)  How much are normal case expenses?

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Remember, a personal injury attorney is only paid IF and WHEN your case settles or resolves. 


This can take years. 


Part and parcel with any case, significant case expenses are usually involved.

Attorneys advance their own money to cover case expenses, betting that they will achieve a good result for you, the client.  This is an opportunity cost.  Remember, if your case fails to settle or resolve, the attorney not only loses out on any attorney's fees - he/she also loses any money used to cover case expenses.


For instance, let's say your case has been pending for 2 years, involving countless attorney hours and approximately $10,000 in case expenses.  So far, the attorney has not been paid a dime.  Instead, he has invested $10,000 in to the case - a net loss so far.  Now, let's assume the judge dismisses the case and throws it out of court for one reason or another.  The attorney not only has lost years of work without any attorney's fees, he's also lost $10,000 of his own money that he advanced to pay for your case expenses.


All of this is a risk and an opportunity cost to the attorney.  Instead of investing $10,000 in your case expenses, the attorney could have invested the money in other opportunities, such as advertising for the law firm, hiring more employees, investing in a 401K retirement fund or similar personal or professional opportunities.  We forego these opportunities to invest in your case expenses.  We are betting that our expertise and time will payoff for you.

This also means that at the end of the case, the attorney is entitled to be reimbursed for his case expenses in addition to the attorney's fees.  

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10)  Why do I have to reimburse case expenses?

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In principle, referral - or associating - fees are simply a way for an attorney to bring more legal minds and resources to your case without any additional costs to you.

Referral fees reflect the reality that though one attorney may be qualified to handle your case, your case stands to obtain a better outcome by getting another attorney involved.  This "referral fee" simply reflects that reality. 


The attorney receiving the referral is happy to pay the fee, because he/she would have never had the opportunity to work on the case but-for the referral.

The referring attorney is also happy because the referral fee theoretically represents a better outcome for the client than the attorney could have achieved on his own.  Alternatively, it represents a compromise of the time and resources the referring attorney has available to invest on your case by associating an attorney with more time and resources.

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11)  Why do attorneys pay a referral fee to a referring attorney?

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Associating another attorney on a case in exchange for a split fee is not only legal, it is often the responsible thing to do. 


Without the associating fee, less qualified attorneys would be incentivized to keep cases, often to the detriment of the client.

These referral relationships are designed to allow attorneys to associate new attorneys to benefit the client.  Any benefit to the referring attorney are incidental to this success.

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12)  Is it legal to pay a referral fee?

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Yes, the associating fees for referring attorneys are paid out of the initial contingency fee as agreed-upon by the client.  

Stated another way, whether your case is referred to another attorney or not, the amount of the contingency fee does not change.  It does not cost the client any more, and it only benefits the client.

As an example, let's say the client calls Attorney A about a case, and this attorney refers your case to Attorney B.  You enter a contract with Attorney B at a 33.33% contingency fee.  This means, both Attorneys A & B split their fees out of this 33.33%.  Attorney B makes less than he would have made than if you had come to him directly, and first.  Meanwhile Attorney A makes gains more value from the case by referring it to Attorney B than he would had he tried to handle the case on his own, given his own circumstances of time, skill, and resources.

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13)  Are referral fees paid out of the contingency fee?

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Associating fees can change with the complexity of the case and whether the attorney routinely practices in the area of law required in the case.

Typically, a referring fee is one-third of the attorneys fees as recovered by the associated attorney. 


It might sound confusing, but the referral fee is 33.33% of the entire contingency fee collected, which may be 33.33% of the gross settlement (one-third of on-third).

For less complex cases or for cases involving catastrophic injuries or death, the referring fees can be as high as 40-50% of the entire contingency fee collected.

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14)  What is a typical referral fee?

Yes, you will still be in debt to pay the personal injury attorney even if you fire him.  

The law protects personal injury attorneys and entitles them to recover compensation out of the final settlement, even if the client fires the attorney. 


The measure of the amount owed to the attorney is determined in one of two ways:  (1) quantum meruit (or reasonable value for services performed); or (2) the terms of the attorney-client contract, if any, that designate how the attorney's services will be valued.

The law puts the attorney's lien superior to all other liens, so the fired attorney is entitled to be paid out of any settlement before any other creditor (i.e. new attorneys, medical liens, etc.)

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15)  If I fire my attorney, do I owe him anything?

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An attorney lien is the right of a lawyer to hold - or pursue - a client's settlement proceeds until the client pays for the legal services the attorney provided. 


If the attorney files his lien, it is binding on all persons.

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16)  What is an attorney lien?

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The manner in which an attorney lien is calculated is determined in one of two ways: 


  1. quantum meruit (or reasonable value for services performed); or

  2. the terms of the attorney-client contract, if any, that designate how the attorney's services will be valued.

Most attorney-client contracts contain terms as to how the attorney's services will be valued, so it's important to refer to your contract before firing an attorney.

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17)  How is an attorney lien calculated if I fire my attorney?

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Yes, you have to pay for an attorney lien, as it is protected by Georgia statute. 


Subject to certain exceptions, the attorney lien takes priority to all other liens. 


Meaning, in the eyes of the law, it is superior to all other liens, and it must be reimbursed first and fully.

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18)  Do I have to pay an attorney lien?

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