There are a lot of considerations that go into deciding whether or not to hire an attorney after getting into a car accident.
You are already dealing with any injuries that you have sustained as a result of the accident. Now, you need to decide whether it is clear who is at fault for the accident. You will begin to file claims for your medical bills or damage to your vehicle. At the same time, you will start to judge whether the insurance company will be easy to deal with. If not, you might be considering whether it is worth the cost of hiring an attorney to help.
But unless you have previously hired a car accident lawyer to represent you, you might not know how much it actually costs to get legal help. Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision about whether or not to get help from an attorney.
Why Some People Think Twice Before Hiring an Attorney for a Car Accident
Hiring a car accident attorney can drastically increase your chances of getting a fair settlement for the injuries and damages you sustained because of an auto accident. But getting that settlement is rarely a fast process.
That may be the reason many victims think twice about hiring an attorney following an accident. Between paying medical bills, dealing with lost wages, and getting your car repaired, you already have a lot of upfront costs to deal with. Adding the cost to hire an attorney might seem out of reach.
How Long Does it Take for a Case to Settle or Go to Court?
Most car accident cases won’t actually go to court. Instead, they settle. However, this still takes time. This usually takes at least a few months, if not a full year, to happen.
But there are plenty of things that can extend this timeline. The insurance company may refuse to pay. The attorney for the person responsible for the accident may try to lay some blame for the wreck on the victim. Even holidays or other circumstances can cause delays in court.
It is not unusual for complicated cases, such as those where it isn’t immediately clear who is at fault or severe accidents with multiple injuries, to drag on for many years.
Are There Any Upfront Costs of Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer?
If you have ever watched a lawyer in action in film or on TV, you might think that every attorney charges an exorbitant hourly fee for their services. While this may be true of some attorneys, it is not always the case.
Lawyers in different practice areas charge for their services in different ways. For instance, divorce attorneys and immigration lawyers will typically charge by the hour for their services. This is partly because their services are often required for an endless number of meetings and sessions, and there is not a single settlement involved. These hourly fees can range from as little as $100 an hour to $400 or more per hour.
Car accident attorneys do not charge by the hour. Instead, they typically charge a contingency fee. A contingency fee is not charged until a case is settled. That means that you will not have to pay any upfront costs to hire an attorney. Even your initial meeting or phone call, during which you will have a chance to decide whether he or she is the right attorney for your case, will not cost you a dime.
This method of payment makes it possible for anyone who has been the victim of a car accident to get legal help, regardless of their current financial situation.
What is a Contingency Fee?
Unlike a divorce lawyer guiding their client through meetings and hearings, much of the work that goes into a car accident case is behind the scenes. This includes doing research, compiling evidence, filling out paperwork, and communicating with insurance companies. If a case does go to court, the attorney will be present. But most car accident cases do not go to court, and instead, settle out of court.
With fewer meetings and more behind-the-scenes work going on, car accident attorneys, alongside other personal injury lawyers, have a unique fee system. This is called a contingency fee.
Contingency fees are a percentage of a settlement that is paid after a case is settled. The percentage is decided ahead of time, between the attorney and the client. And the client does not have to pay anything towards this fee until the case is settled.
A contingency fee is about much more than just forgoing upfront costs. It also means that clients will not have to pay for a car accident lawyer’s services unless the case is decided in your favor.
What are the Benefits of a Contingency Fee?
This unique fee structure is beneficial to both the client and to the attorney.
For the client, this fee helps set your mind at ease. Because your attorney’s payment depends on their hard work and success, you know that they will be putting your interests first. You won’t need to worry about whether he or she is too busy or your case is too small to warrant their attention.
Of course, clients also won’t have to worry about paying upfront fees. If the case is not decided in your favor, you won’t be left to pay a high attorney's fees.
A contingency fee system is beneficial to attorneys as well. They are guaranteed a payout for their hard work, whether a case is fast to settle or more complicated.
What Percentage Do Car Accident Lawyers Typically Take?
While a contingency fee offers some obvious benefits to clients, it can also make it a bit harder to estimate exactly what hiring a car accident lawyer will cost you. That is because there are two distinct factors that determine the final cost, and that vary from one case to the next: the percentage defined by the contingency fee agreement and the amount that the case is settled for.
The percentage of a settlement that an attorney will take is something that is decided before a lawyer takes on a case. The car accident lawyer and the client will typically meet to discuss this fee.
Most attorneys have a set percentage that they ask for. Depending on the specifics of the individual case, there is a chance that this percentage can be negotiated. However, this may not always be the case.
The percentage that a car accident lawyer requires is far from a random number. Instead, it is carefully calculated to allow them to cover their costs. It is important to remember that attorneys are doing more than just giving themselves a paycheck with the contingency fee.
Contingency fee funds go towards expenses like:
- Work by your attorney that goes into building your case. This includes gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, taking statements, and preparing materials for court.
- All communications that your lawyer makes, such as speaking with insurance companies about your claims.
- Office expenses including everything from computers and printers to paper and pens
- Rent for their office space
- Paying the salary of other employees, like clerks or receptionists that also aid in cases
Of course, the actual amount that the contingency fee totals will be different for each case. For the most part, the higher the settlement the client is seeking, the more work that will be required on the part of the attorney. The smaller the settlement, the less work required. This means that the contingency fee changes based largely on the amount of work that will be required.
Is There an Average Percentage That Contingency Fees are Typically Set at?
While contingency fee totals do vary, most attorneys charge a set percentage for each case that they take on. As we mentioned, the total is usually directly related to the amount of work required.
The American Bar Association reports that the average contingency fee for lawyers is around one-third of the total settlement. That would make the percentage 33 percent, though depending on the case and the attorney this percentage could go as high as 40 percent.
Where the fee falls in this range may depend on several factors, including:
- How long the attorney expects it to take for a case to settle
- The complexity of a specific case and the car accident behind it
- If a case is expected to go to court or not
- Where the accident takes place and the common practices in that state
Finding Out the Contingency Fee Ahead of Time
You can ask a car accident lawyer what percentage they charge for the contingency fee before you decide to hire them to take on your case. This will allow you to make a more informed decision about whether or not a certain attorney is the right choice for your case.
When you are receiving medical bills and vehicle repair bills totaling thousands of dollars, it can be tough to think about handing over one-third of a settlement to an attorney. However, it is important to remember that having an attorney on your side can help increase your chances of getting a settlement, and of getting the settlement that you deserve.
Without professional legal help, you will be left to fight the insurance companies and the attorneys hired by the person responsible for the accident all on your own.
Are There Any Costs You Will Need to Pay Outside of the Contingency Fee?
A contingency fee helps clients to avoid high upfront costs when they are first starting their legal battle. But that does not mean you won’t have to spend some money in the process of your case, outside of the contingency fee.
The contingency fee is designed to cover your attorney's time, knowledge, and experience. It does not cover other expenses that come from building your case and preparing it for court or filing.
The client is responsible for some of the expenses that go into building a case.
Expenses may include:
- Obtaining copies of any and all medical records. If you have underlying medical conditions that may have been affected by the accident or complicated your injuries, copies of records of these conditions may also be necessary.
- The cost to obtain expert witnesses, including medical professionals, crash reconstruction experts, etc.
- Any court costs, such as transcription fees and deposition expenses.
- All administration costs for the attorney’s office. This includes expenses like legal research, making copies, sending mail, or preparing materials for presentation in court.
When Will You Need to Pay These Costs
When you will be required to pay these additional costs depends on your attorney. Some car accident lawyers will ask that you pay these expenses as they are required while building and fighting your case.
Many attorneys will instead pay these expenses on their own as they arise. Then, you will reimburse them after your case is settled. Just like with a contingency fee, this is beneficial because, if you win your case, you will have cash in hand to cover these expenses. Of course, in the event that a case is not settled in your favor, you will still be responsible for covering these expenses.
Is Getting a Lawyer for a Car Accident a Good Investment?
What it really costs to hire an attorney for a car accident is never a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, the total depends on a variety of factors. These include the percentage that the contingency fee is set at, how much your case is settled for, and what other expenses arise that the client has to pay.
Now that you know what to expect, it is time to decide whether or not getting a lawyer is a good investment for you.
While hiring an attorney will cost you a portion of your settlement and some smaller expenses, it can also go a long way towards helping you to win your case and get the settlement that you are seeking. Forgoing an attorney for your car accident case will save you money. But if it winds up costing you your case, you will be left empty-handed.