Not once in the 20 years I have been a Idaho injury trial lawyer has a client wanted me to work on hourly fee instead of a contingency fee at the outset of a case. Clients understandably want me to take the risk of no recovery and I am glad I have the ability to do so and help them. The contingency fee arrangement has many benefits for both the client and the attorney.
Few injured people are wealthy enough to afford the hourly rates of $200, $250, $300 an hour and up that corporations pay their lawyers. Contingency fees create access to justice for ordinary people of average and limited means. And in the real world it is people from ordinary walks of life who deal with injury claims.
Clients Like Contingency Fees
Clients certainly like the something for nothing part of the contingency fee arrangement. Without paying a penny, the client gets quality legal representation from day one. Basically, clients get the chance to eliminate all risk of having to pay for the cost of legal services unless the case itself provides them the money to do so.
Clients are universally happy to have their attorney take the financial risks at the start– at a time when any case may turn out to offer no, or limited, recovery. Our business model allows us to take on the risk of no recovery in a case. To, in essence, wager that with our specialized skill, the reputation we have earned, and our ability to successfully pursue and litigate a case we can obtain the fairest compensation available for our injured clients. And earn our fee.
Of course, there are those cases where we have invested many hours of time and expenses to develop and pursue the case and not obtained the results we wanted. In those cases, the business model can hurt. Those cases where we have stayed up late and worked weekends preparing for trial, and had the jury disagree with our claims are part of the contingency fee system. And it is not just the investment of our time that is at risk. As experienced contingency fee lawyers we know that clients as a general rule do not repay the expenses we have incurred in cases that end poorly. They get written off as bad debts most of the time. The cost of litigation can be borne easily by an insurance company, but not by the average injured person. Clients are right to shift the risk of such a loss to their lawyers.
Even cases which at first glance seem simple, often take substantial work. Clients frequently perceive things as clear cut, as I am attending depositions, working with witnesses and medical professionals, participating in hearings, fighting over evidence and doing my part in the general legal wrangling. In even the most basic cases I regularly find myself going to depositions or court hearings. Defendants frequently fight among themselves as to who has what share of liability or drag out proceedings just to try and get leverage over clients. And the insurance companies keep my client’s money in their accounts until the last possible moment just before trial. They want to be sure that the case is prepared to go forward. At the outset, when a client has to choose to pay hourly or contingency it is extremely difficult to gauge whether the case will settle easily and or require years of work. Undoubtedly, with the benefit of hindsight, some cases turn out to be profitable and some do not. Separating profitable cases from ones that will be a long slog and financial drains at the time an attorney client relationship is formed is only seen as simple by armchair critics who have not faced the reality of representing injured people.
Contingency Fees Are About Risk and Accessibility
It is at the late stage of a case that sometimes clients wonder why I get my fee. After the work we have done that is our only payday. Often after months and years of work having been done. But in those cases that seemed to them to go easily clients forget the risk that we lawyers agreed to incur at the start of our relationship. There are those clients that lose sight of, or just do not understand, the value that our reputation and efforts in prior cases have brought to their case.
Because it reduces the clients risks ahead of time, the contingency fee system makes sense for clients even if at the end it may not be immediately perceivable as “fair” based solely on time investment. You have to ignore the risk shifting and the impact of having a quality plaintiff’s lawyers working the case to have that view. It is simply false to equate the amount of time a lawyer spends on a case with “value” for the client. Injury clients did not seek that role– they did not ask to be injured. They cannot prepare for the role of claimant by having on hand a staff of experienced attorneys, developed experts and medical specialists like the corporate defendants and insurance companies have. And clients should not have to bet their homes and savings that they will win their cases recover the hourly legal fees they would be required to pay without a contingency agreement.
Everyone, no matter their walk of life should have access to quality, motivated, experienced counsel. That is what the contingency fee provides.
We do not take contingency fees from clients who come to us with a full fair offer from an insurance company or a policy limits offer based on limited coverage. We often help these folks and other handle their cases on their own with some advice and guidance, It is only where we believe we can provide value to a client that we take on that client.
I understand the misperceptions that lead clients sometimes at the end of a case to want to change our agreement and convert me to an hourly fee lawyer. Exactly what they did not want to do at the start of the case. This usually happens when they perceive the amount of time we worked on the case doesn’t justify our fee. But whenever our work, reputation, and efforts help create the risk exposure that has the insurance company willing to pay a fair settlement under the circumstances at hand, I am happy to take my fee. And believe it is fully earned. I am always proud to have done the work to get the best possible result for the client. That is true no matter how many hours I worked on the case. Because the amount of hours is not the same thing as the value our skills brought to bear.