"I wish I could hire you but I just don't have the money right now."
These can be difficult words to say, especially when the person saying them knows that they need a lawyer.
Maybe they were fired after a pregnancy leave, after making a request for a reasonable accommodation. Or maybe they need to hire someone for help with a car accident, or to try and go after a hospital for a medication overdose.
The common theme is that they need help. And often, unfortunately, they're not in a position to pay for it.
Many lawyers charge for their work by the hour - even we still do on occasion. You pay the lawyer just like you'd pay a plumber, accountant, or other trade person. The problem is that lawyers can be expensive. On the lower side they may charge $150 per hour, on the higher side upwards of $500 per hour.
So how do you possibly afford a lawyer to right a wrong, where the wrong has left you unable to afford the very lawyer you need?
The answer is hiring a lawyer on a contingency fee basis.
The difference between hiring a lawyer by the hour and hiring a lawyer on a contingency is significant. When you hire a lawyer by the hour you typically will have to pay that lawyer an initial retainer (often $5000 or more). The lawyer will then deduct from that retainer as her or she performs work.
When you hire a lawyer on a contingency basis the lawyer does not generally ask for any money up front. In fact, you may not have to pay the lawyer at all. The lawyer's fee is contingent upon a successful recovery for you - in other words, the lawyer does not get paid unless she obtains an economic recovery for you.
Why a contingency fee could you right for you
Lawsuits for discrimination at work, or for damages to recover from a car accident or medical malpractice, are unpredictable. Despite what you might see lawyers saying on tv, it is nearly impossible for a lawyer to know how long a case will take or how quickly it can get resolved before you hire them. This makes it difficult to hire them by the hour, because your costs can get out of control quickly.
In a contingency fee case you are hiring the lawyer with the express understanding that it does not matter how long the case takes, as long as the lawyer gets you the best possible result. You do not pay more or less based upon the amount of work. This can help manage your concerns about money.
The lawyer has a vested interest
Another good thing about hiring a lawyer on a contingency fee basis is that it ensures that the lawyer will work to get you the best possible result - because the lawyer has a vested interest in doing so. Now, ethically lawyers have an obligation to do the best thing for their clients under any circumstances, and most do just that. But when you know that the lawyer has a vested stake in the case you can be further assured that they - at least the good ones - will do whatever they can to get you the best possible result.
But can't the lawyer potentially get paid a lot to do a little bit of work?
The answer here is that yes, on occasion lawyers get a client a very good result without alot of what would appear to be formal work. In these situations you should ask yourself a few questions:
- Would I have been able to get that much of a recovery without this lawyer's help?;
- Was this the result I was hoping for?;
- Is it possible that this was resolved so quickly, at least in part, because of the lawyer's reputation?
While some cases get resolved early the reality is that for most lawyers who handle contingency cases they do not. They can require extensive, costly, litigation, and given the unknown costs involved it simply often makes more sense for the client to know that they will not be responsible for payment of hourly fees if the case takes a long time.
Questions about contingency fees or legal representation? Contact us today.