What is a Contingency Fee?

By Peter DePaolis

Most personal injury cases get handled on a contingency fee basis. This fee arrangement gets called “contingency fee” because the lawyer’s paycheck depends on whether you win your case. If you win, the lawyer gets paid a previously agreed-upon percentage. If you do not win, the lawyer does not receive any legal fees for their work. 

You can talk to a Virginia personal injury attorney about your personal injury case and how the contingency fee arrangement would work in your situation. Let’s explore the issues involved in understanding what is a contingency fee. 

What Contingency Fees Are

When a lawyer takes a personal injury case on contingency fee, the client does not have to pay any upfront legal fees to get the lawyer started working on their case. The attorney will work the entire way through the claim or a lawsuit, waiting until the end to get paid. 

If the client does not win a settlement or court award, the lawyer does not get their legal fees paid. In other words, whether the lawyer gets paid is contingent on whether the client wins. If you do not win your claim or lawsuit, you do not have to pay us any legal fees.

If you had a lawyer in a different kind of legal matter in the past, like a divorce or a traffic matter, you probably paid a fee deposit upfront and got charged by the hour or you paid a flat fee. Those types of fee arrangements are not contingency fees. Virginia law usually prohibits contingency fees in domestic relations matters or representing a defendant in a criminal case.

Important Details in Contingency Fee Arrangements

Virginia law does allow contingency fee arrangements for certain types of cases, like personal injury claims or lawsuits. When people get to use contingency fee arrangements, more people have access to the legal system. Before the law allowed contingency fees, usually only wealthy people could afford to hire an attorney to take legal action for them.

Before you agree to a contingency fee arrangement, you should make sure that you understand the important details of the arrangement. It is best if you have a written fee agreement signed by the lawyer and the client. It is essential to the agreement contains these details, among others:

  1. The percentage the lawyer will receive if you win your case. Different lawyers charge different percentages, based on their experience and other factors. Some cases might be inherently expensive, such as a case that would require hiring an expert witness like an engineer or a medical doctor. Some other cases might be complicated, especially if you might be partially at fault. Make sure you know the actual percentage the lawyer will charge.
  2. The percentage will increase at different points during the case. For example, if the lawyer can reach a favorable settlement of your claim without having to file a lawsuit, the contingency fee should entitled the lawyer to receive a particular percentage of the proceeds. If the lawyer has to file a lawsuit, however, that percentage might go up. You need to know how much the percentage would be at that point. If the case goes to trial or goes to trial and then gets appealed, the lawyer might get paid a different percentage. You need to know these details at the beginning of your personal injury claim. 

A Virginia Personal Injury Attorney can handle your personal injury case and talk to you about contingency fees in your situation. Get in touch with our office today for help with your case.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.