Can I afford a Lawyer?
If someone hurt you in an accident, you may seek compensation. Most legal claims involve a plaintiff and their lawyer. Attorneys are valuable to any case due to their knowledge and experience. You might have become interested in finding a lawyer to work on your lawsuit.
Many people know legal efforts cost plenty of money. Someone could spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on their case. One of the concerns a person might have is how to pay a for lawyer.
Reasons to Hire a Lawyer
If you get into an accident, a claim can help you get the money you need to recover from your losses. Complicated cases require the help of a personal injury lawyer. However, some people choose not to hire one.
Consider the reasons why an attorney gives you the upper hand in your lawsuit:
- Helps you make the right decisions. Every case is different, and some people do not know the best course of action. You could have multiple options for your claim, and an attorney goes over them with you. If the other party decides to compensate you fairly, your lawyer determines you do not need court action.
- Know what you need to prove liability. Personal injury lawsuits have four requirements the plaintiff must meet. Lawyers know how to identify the responsible party and prove they were negligent. They can investigate and gather sufficient evidence as well.
- Represents you in a trial. Around 95 percent of cases settle before a trial, but chances of success are lower if your lawsuit does go to court. Get an attorney who can face an aggressive defense. They know how to gain the favor of the trial judge or jury.
- Negotiates with the opposing party. The other side’s insurance company usually does not want to pay the injured person the appropriate amount. Insurers have multiple tactics to avoid compensation. However, an attorney can negotiate a settlement agreement with the defendant.
- Ensures you meet deadlines. The statute of limitations requires victims to initiate a personal injury claim after several years. Some people miss the deadline and lose the ability to sue. A lawyer can get your case started on time.
Accidents can occur at any time. Attorneys provide plenty of advantages when you need to seek compensation.
The Disadvantages if You Do Not Hire an Attorney
The injured party can go through with a personal injury lawsuit without a lawyer. Around 2,702 filed personal injury cases have the person self-represent. However, the legal system is challenging for people unfamiliar with laws. They can experience multiple disadvantages if they do not have an attorney by their side.
The disadvantages include:
- A premature settlement. Some insurance companies contact victims with an offer of a quick settlement. Usually, the offered money is less than how much the person needs to recover. The adjuster knows the victim goes through a vulnerable time. They could manipulate you into agreeing to unfair compensation early.
- Paperwork mistakes. A couple of the documents you usually need to file include the complaint and the summons. You have to complete and submit them correctly as a lawyer would. An error could create a setback. Additionally, mistakes could cause you to lose your lawsuit.
- Life can get busy. The injured person needs to learn various legal terms and navigate the system. Research can become time-consuming. People have to manage other responsibilities in their personal lives as well. You could struggle to find time to balance both commitments.
- Incorrect calculations. During the lawsuit process, lawyers estimate how much a case is worth. Without an attorney, the plaintiff has to calculate their compensation. Non-economic damages do not have a quantifiable amount. You might undervalue your claim as a result.
Life becomes easier when you have a personal injury lawyer around to assist you. Your case stands a better chance as well.
How Do You Pay a Lawyer?
Before you hire a firm, you and a lawyer discuss the topic of payment. Some people hesitate to get legal assistance since they might not have the resources to pay one upfront. However, most personal injury attorneys charge clients contingency fees.
A contingency fee means you do not need to pay your lawyer until they recover damages for you. Usually, they take a percentage of the settlement as payment. Many firms have a fee set at around 33 percent of compensation.
You and an attorney would agree on an arrangement before you obtain their services. Different variations of the contingency fee exist.
The percentage of the contingency fee operates on a sliding scale. If a claim becomes more complicated as it progresses, the fee’s percentage increases. However, the portion you need to pay can go down if a case settles before you need to file a lawsuit.
The plaintiff still does not need to pay unless a claim is successful. Unlike a regular contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer does not remove a portion from the settlement. Instead, the bill depends on the number of hours the attorney worked on the case.
Lawyers are unlikely to use an hourly contingency fee. They might if a client has a high potential to recover money from the defendant.
A Mix of Hourly and Contingency
A few people pay a mixed hourly and contingency fee. Attorneys still receive payment even if the lawsuit is unsuccessful. However, the cost generally is a reduced hourly rate for the work a lawyer completes. If the plaintiff wins a settlement or award, then the attorney’s bill increases.
The additional money you pay is either the full hourly rate or a small percentage of your compensation.
Other Lawyer Fees
Personal injury firms might charge other fee types, especially if they represent a defendant. A common form of payment is a retainer. Before a lawyer begins their work, the client provides a lump sum. The money usually goes into a separate account. During the case, the attorney removes funds from the account.
A lawyer might use an hourly cap. They work hourly, but they can only charge a client a maximum amount of money. The cap remains even if an attorney spends a lot of time on a case.
Additional Legal Costs
Besides the fee you and a lawyer agree upon, you accumulate other legal expenses. You still need to pay the costs regardless of whether your claim wins or not. Several examples of typical expenses include
- trial exhibits,
- police reports,
- expert witnesses,
- and court reporters.
When you have to pay for the additional legal costs depends on the lawyer. Some of them wait until they close a claim. Others might charge you monthly instead. The total amount varies from case to case, so an attorney might be unable to give a proper estimation in the beginning.
Who Pays for Damages?
Once a lawsuit settles, the other side sends the money to the lawyer. In many cases, the liable party’s insurance company is the one to pay for your damages. Insurers try to lessen the awarded amount since they know they have to spend money on the costs.
The insurance company waits for you to sign the release forms and issues the check. You might get a single payment or multiple ones based on the arrangement.
You could have a defendant who does not have a coverage plan. As a result, the liable party pays out-of-pocket for legal expenses and compensation.
Other Options if You Cannot Afford a Lawyer
Legal Aid Societies
Some people have options if they do not have enough resources to get a lawyer. They can try other affordable ways to obtain legal help based on their situation. One solution is to seek a legal aid society to take on your case.
Legal aid societies are nonprofit organizations, and they provide legal services for free or at a reduced cost. At least 134 legal aid programs exist across the United States. Not every person receives help from one of the nonprofits.
A household might earn an income above the threshold. Nevertheless, even qualified people get inadequate or no legal assistance.
Law School Programs
Another option is to hire a law student to give you advice on your personal injury case. Many law schools have a pro bono program or legal clinic to offer free help. Students get to gain hands-on experience. Meanwhile, you can discover the most effective plan for your injury lawsuit.
Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations in person or through a videoconference. During the meeting, you can ask the lawyer any questions you have. You can learn more about how to navigate the legal system. Of course, the attorney might know which firm can help you at a low cost.
You can reach out to your county or state bar association for a consultation as well. Associations typically have a service at specific times of the month. They answer legal questions for free. Alternatively, you can schedule a 30-minute consultation for a fee or free.
Can You Switch Attorneys?
In civil court, you have the right to choose who will represent you before a judge. During the lawsuit process, you might change your mind about who works on your case. Some limitations might exist, but a client generally can switch attorneys.
People have different reasons why they want to hire someone else. They might feel like their claim is not progressing. Sometimes, communication becomes an issue. A lawyer might not return phone calls or emails in a reasonable amount of time.
A few lawyers appear as if they do not have a strategy, or their plan does not make sense to clients. Others prove to be a bad fit and do not have their client’s best interests in mind. For example, your attorney could pressure you to accept a settlement offer you do not like.
You should not feel like you are stuck with a lawyer after you hire them. If you need to make a change, you should do it early on to lower the risk of court disapproval.
How to Change Lawyers
The process to switch lawyers is straightforward if you have not filed a lawsuit. You can go to the new firm for help. The attorney informs your previous one and the insurance company about the change. However, a replacement after you file a legal claim requires additional steps.
The process needs a formal notice known as a substitution of counsel. You would have to have the departing lawyer and the incoming one sign a form. You must file the document before the county clerk. Some local courts have additional rules.
What Are the Ways to Find an Attorney
Use Online Directories
Many people go online to seek a personal injury firm near them. One of the places they can visit is a lawyer directory. Legal directories provide you with a list of attorneys who practice in specific fields of law near you. You might need options for a car accident lawyer or a premises liability attorney.
The list provides people with the contact details of each firm. Online directories usually have reviews of each attorney as well. You can read if a person had a positive or negative experience with a lawyer before you schedule a meeting.
Use Search Engines
A common way to find the right lawyer is to use a search engine like Google. The results contain dozens of attorneys who practice in specific areas of personal injury law. The links take you to a firm’s website and available practice areas, and each website host plenty of information.
You can learn where to locate an office in your state. Some sites have a case results page, so you can get an idea of the successes a firm has attained for claims like yours. You can usually read testimonials from clients as well. Websites describe each lawyer and how much experience they have.
Ask the People You Know
In the real world, you can talk to your family and friends about potential lawyers. One of them might have hired someone before for a similar claim. They could recommend you a reliable attorney.
When you have an idea of whom to speak with, schedule a consultation with them. The initial meeting gives you valuable insight into whether a lawyer is right for you.