When clients first come to our Los Angeles offices to seek our services, they usually have two chief concerns. The first is how much they may stand to recover if they win their personal injury case. The second is how much a personal injury attorney costs in L.A. Of course, the answer to both questions varies based on the specific circumstances of each case. But we can address the latter in general terms.
Understanding the difference between legal fees and legal costs
To begin with, it is important to learn the difference between legal fees and legal costs.
Legal fees are the wages an attorney receives for the work done for each client. A lawyer’s fees may be based on:
- a per/hour rate
- a flat project rate
- a portion of the compensation obtained for the client
Legal costs are expenses associated with certain activities that advance the case. These generally include:
- Photo copying documents
- Submitting documents to the court
- Retaining expert witnesses
- Retaining private investigators
- Serving paperwork
- Obtaining police reports
- Obtaining medical records
- Creating exhibits for trial
These costs are usually addressed in one of three ways. Sometimes he or she will ask the client to make an initial payment towards these costs and deduct the rest from the settlement or verdict. Another option is to have the client pay costs as they occur. In most cases, however, the client in a personal injury case will not pay anything to cover costs upfront. Instead, the attorney will deduct all of the costs from the settlement.
Working on contingency in personal injury cases
Personal injury lawyers in California tend to work on contingency. This means they take a portion of your settlement or award as payment. How much they ultimately take depends on several factors such as:
- Where they practice
- Their experience with different types of personal injury cases
- The difficulty of your case
- Your liability (if any)
- The amount of time and effort needed to prepare and resolve the case
In general, California lawyers cannot charge outrageous amounts for their services. But beyond the strict ethics rules prohibiting this, there are no specific limitations on contingency fees in most cases.
The fee agreement
California law mandates that lawyers provide written fee agreements for their clients. In this document, the lawyer should detail exactly how his or her fees are calculated. He or she should also detail any other deductions from any potential settlement or court verdict.
Most of these agreements stipulate that the lawyer will get 35 to 50 percent of the award or judgment. This does not preclude you from negotiating a lower percentage or a different agreement, however.
Remember, a personal injury attorney may also deduct legal costs from your settlement or judgment. These deductions will be taken in addition to the percentage deducted as the attorney’s fees. In the fee agreement, the lawyer must indicate whether his or her fees will be deducted before or after the legal costs. This is an important distinction, because it affects how much the client ultimately receives.
The fee agreement should also include information about any other deductions, such as medical liens. Finally, it should specify that the client receive the net amount after all applicable deductions.
Make sure you understand the fine printA fee agreement is a legally binding contract. Avoid the temptation to rush through reading it. If anything, take extra time to read through it and jot down any questions you may have about the fine print. Do not sign anything until you feel comfortable doing so.
At LawPLA, we are always happy to discuss fees and any other issues of concern with clients and prospective clients. To learn more about how we can help with your personal injury claim, contact us today.