Personal Injury

Should I Hire the Personal Injury Lawyer With the Lowest Fee?

By David Berg, Attorney
Unlike most things in life, you don't typically get what you pay for when it comes to hiring a personal injury lawyer. So hiring the cheapest lawyer -- the one with the lowest contingency fee percentage, for example -- isn't necessarily the wisest choice.

If you've got a personal injury case, especially one where you've suffered significant losses, your goal is to hire the best lawyer you can find, and the one who is the best fit for you on both a personal and professional level. It's certainly not a good idea to seek out and hire a personal injury lawyer based primarily on price, because personal injury lawyers don’t compete on price. So, a cheaper personal injury lawyer may very well be a pretty good lawyer, but if that lawyer isn't a good fit (either for you or your case) then you shouldn’t hire him/her.

The Contingency Fee Agreement

Almost all personal injury lawyers work under a contingency fee agreement, meaning that they get a percentage of whatever they might be able to collect for the client (whether via settlement or court judgment) and that, if the attorney can’t get any money for the client, the firm doesn’t get anything either.

Personal Injury Lawyers Don't Compete on Price

But the key thing to know about personal injury lawyers' fees is that most personal injury lawyers charge the same fee: 33 and one-third percent (or simply one-third). Some firms might charge a little more, but as a general rule, personal injury lawyers simply don’t compete with each other on pricing.

Let's look at this another way: You see lots of ads in the Yellow Pages, on billboards, and on the internet for personal injury lawyers, but you rarely (if ever) see an ad that emphasizes that firm’s low fees. That's because they're not selling cars, they are selling trust and a personal relationship.

Sometimes Fees (i.e. the Contingency Percentage) Do Vary

There are exceptions to the rule of little-to-no-variety in personal injury lawyers’ pricing. Some lawyers might charge a little less for a smaller case (perhaps 30 percent) and a little more for a larger case (maybe 35 percent). And other lawyers use a sliding scale. They might charge 25 percent if the personal injury case reaches settlement before a lawsuit needs to be filed, 33 and one-third percent if a lawsuit has to be filed, 35 percent if the case goes to trial, and 40 percent if the case goes to an appeal.

But the bottom line is that, unlike paying for a car or baseball tickets (or even a non-personal injury lawyer who might get paid by the hour or by the transaction), there is no strict correlation between a personal injury lawyer’s fee structure and the quality of representation you can expect. A very good personal injury lawyer might only charge 30 percent because he or she believes that is the right thing to do. And a below-average lawyer might charge 40 percent for all cases simply because he or she can. The lawyer charging 40 percent might be a really bad lawyer, but a really good marketer.

Shop Around for the Right Lawyer

So, if you or a family member are looking around for a personal injury lawyer, you should look at the lawyer’s fee as just one factor in the decision of whether to hire that lawyer. (Learn more about Why It's a Good Idea to Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer.)

If the lawyer is charging less than the standard contingency fee rate (around one-third of any money recovered for the client), that's nothing to worry about, and it may even be a good thing. But it's probably not wise to make the hiring decision based solely on that rate. And if the lawyer wants to charge more than the standard one-third rate, there's no reason to shy away from asking the reasons for the deviation, but again, a rate of 34 or 35 percent shouldn't dissuade you from hiring a lawyer if he or she feels like a good fit.

Get more tips on Working With a Personal Injury Lawyer.

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