There is a common misperception among injury victims that an attorney is prohibitively expensive: something only the ultra-elites and those with significant assets can afford. This misperception (unfortunately) leads many California car accident victims to attempt to resolve their injury lawsuit or claim themselves. This in turn leads to settlements and resolutions that fail to fully compensate the injury victim.
How Much Should I Spend on an Accident Attorney?
There is no “right” answer to the amount you should spend on a car accident lawyer in California. California rules that govern attorneys’ behavior permits attorneys to charge a “reasonable fee” for their services but does not set precise figures that attorneys must use. One attorney’s fee can vary from another attorney’s fee depending on:
- The attorney’s experience (more experienced attorney will charge more for their services);
- The attorney’s community;
- The services an attorney will provide to you (a case review may cost less than taking your case to trial); and
- Other pertinent factors.
It is always advisable to visit with more than one attorney so that you can compare prices and services to ensure you are getting a good deal.
Different Types of Fee Structures
When you initially meet with an accident attorney to discuss your case (a significant number of attorneys will offer you a free or low-cost initial consultation), expect that the attorney will take time to discuss his or her firm’s fee structure with you. The attorney will most likely indicate he or she uses one of the following three fee structures:
- Hourly fee: In this fee structure you will pay the attorney a set fee for each portion of an hour that he or she works on your case. You will also pay his or her support staff (paralegal or legal secretary) in a similar manner, although the fee for these support personnel will typically be less than the attorney’s fee. You will be responsible for the attorney’s fee regardless of the outcome of your case.
- Flat fee: Some attorneys set a flat rate to provide certain simple services. For example, an attorney may agree to prepare a demand letter to the at-fault party or insurance company for a set amount. Very few, if any, attorneys will take a personal injury case to trial for a set fee as it is impossible to estimate with any accuracy how involved one case will be. You must generally pay the flat fee upfront before the attorney will perform the agreed-upon service.
- Contingency fee: This fee arrangement is popular amongst some personal injury or car accident attorneys and enables cash-strapped injury victims the ability to retain legal services without having to have much, if any, money upfront. In a contingency fee arrangement, the attorney agrees to be paid a certain percentage of whatever monetary recovery he or she is able to obtain for you. If the attorney is unable to obtain compensation for you, you generally are not responsible for paying the attorney’s fees. Note, though, you may still be responsible for certain administrative costs like court filing fees, copying fees, and other similar expenses regardless of the outcome of your case.
Be Sure to Read the Retainer Agreement Carefully
Whatever fee structure your attorney uses, he or she will write down the details of this structure in a retainer agreement and have you sign this agreement if you decide to retain his or her services. Be sure that you read the agreement carefully as it is a legally binding contract. Many disputes and hard feelings that develop between clients and their lawyers result from the client not understanding what the lawyer agreed to do and for how much.
Our team of experienced Attorneys in Los Angeles will guide you step by step through the whole process.