What Is A Contingency Fee?

I am sick and tired of hearing the “no-fee guarantee” offered by lawyers here in Rochester. It’s a marketing scam. We all know lawyers don’t work for free, nor could they. What they really mean is they will work on a contingency basis. So what is a contingency fee?

How Personal Injury Lawyers Charge

A contingency means that the lawyer’s fee is a percentage of any recovery. Most personal Injury cases are handled on a contingency basis. The reason is that there is often a lot of time an effort that goes into a personal injury or car accident case up front. The theory is that contingency fees allow people that could not afford to hire a lawyer upfront a way to seek justice in their case. The average hourly wage for a lawyer in Rochester is $200 to $400 an hour. It makes sense that a large portion of accident victims don’t have several thousand dollars sitting around after they are injured. If they had to pay a lawyer upfront to investigate and pursue their claim, many valid cases would not be pursued.

Contingency Fees Level the Playing Field

Instead, personal injury lawyers meet with prospective clients for free. They hear about the case and will do some investigating into the facts. If they think there is the potential for a successful case the lawyer agrees to take the case on the condition that lawyer will get a percentage of any recovery as their fee.

Contingency fees are a high risk, high reward method of billing for the lawyer. If an attorney is able to settle a case quickly, for a large amount of money, they profit. Other times a lawyer may sink years into investigating, litigating, trying and appealing a case, and walk away with nothing.

I think that contingency fees make sense. It is a pay-for-performance system. If a lawyer wants to make a living, he or she needs to produce results. Most people would agree with that. The biggest criticism of the contingency fee structure would be the chop-shop type law firms that advertise heavy to get in a ton of cases and then settle them cheap, to pay for more advertising. You all know who those people are. The lawyers suggest settlement because they want money quickly, when more work would mean a better result for the client, but not necessarily a better hourly wage. I think the contingency fee structure works much better with a client working one-on-one with a lawyer they trust.


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