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How Do Personal Injury Attorneys Get Paid? Should I Hire One?

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The United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey offers some truth about the cost of hiring a lawyer. In 2015/2016, this report stated the average rate in the U.S. was $350 per hour. What it doesn’t cover are the details regarding how personal injury attorneys are paid.

To better understand how lawyers get paid, we’ve created a quick guide into the different options. Learn more about:

  • Consultation Fees
  • Contingent Fees
  • Flat Fees
  • Hourly Rates
  • Referral Fees
  • Retainers

Consultation Fees

While some attorneys offer free consultations, others charge a consultation fee. The amount varies from one law firm to the next. That consultation fee is designed to cover the attorney’s time and office costs like electricity and rent.

The consultation helps you decide if it’s worth hiring the lawyer to handle your case. During this appointment, you’ll present your situation and the attorney discusses what your rights are. It helps you decide if it’s worth the fight you and the attorney face or if there is another option.

It’s not as common to see consultation fees with law firms that handle personal injury cases. If you’re looking for an attorney due to a slip and fall, car accident, or medical malpractice case, it’s unlikely you’d run into an attorney asking you to pay the consultation fee.

Contingent Fees

Most personal injury attorneys handle cases based on contingency. What this means is that you don’t pay anything unless the attorney wins your case. At that point, the attorney takes a percentage of the settlement offer or the amount the court awards you.

In the U.S., the typical contingent fee is 33%. If the attorney’s work leads to an award of $1.5 million, the attorney gets $495,000 and you’d get the remaining amount of just over $1 million. If the attorney isn’t successful, you don’t pay anything.

As a contingent fee arrangement means the lawyer doesn’t get paid if he/she doesn’t win the case, you’ll find the attorneys do everything they can to ensure the case leads to a win. One thing you should note is that you may still be required to pay filing fees any fees charged for getting witness depositions. These fees should be discussed in during the consultation.

Flat Fees

Flat fees are commonly used in simple law matters like drawing up a will or power of attorney paperwork. You pay that fee and end up with the will, power of attorney, advance directive, or legal form. It’s a flat fee because most attorneys have a standard form they can use and just fill in the blanks with the information that’s pertinent to your situation.

Hourly Rates

Depending on the legal matter, some attorneys charge an hourly rate. You pay based on how many hours it takes the attorney to complete the job. Paralegals working on your situation will cost less than a partner. The total hours may include time spent in court, legal research, and time spent drawing up paperwork.

Some of the areas where you might find lawyers charging hourly rates are divorces. Family law, such as child custody battles, is another area where hourly rates may apply.

Referral Fees

If an attorney is unable to help you due to time constraints or lack of expertise involving your specific situation, he/she may refer you to an attorney that does specialize in that type of case. If there is a referral, the attorney may charge a fee for referring your case to the other attorney or firm. If this happens, it’s often taken as a percentage of the money the other lawyer earns.


A retainer is essentially a down payment you make to hire a lawyer. You pay the retainer fee and the attorney uses that money to start investigating and handling the case. The money is typically put into an escrow account and drawn from as needed. This retainer can also be paid to secure the lawyer for future needs.

Should You Hire a Lawyer?

The decision to hire a lawyer is a personal one. If the attorney offers free consultations, there’s no risk to at least discuss your case with an expert. Don’t let the average hourly cost to hire a lawyer keep you from seeking legal advice.

Trial Lawyers for Justice is here for you and your family. You don’t have to worry about affording our Des Moines personal injury lawyers. We work on contingency, so you will never pay a penny to our attorneys if we don’t win your case. Give us a call. It costs nothing to find out if you have a valid case. Reach TL4J online or by calling 866-TL4J-LAW.

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Trial by Human

Nick Rowley founded Trial by Human, a nationwide legal education course to help trial lawyers improve their skills in the courtroom by "being human".