Important Elements of Your Personal Injury Attorney-Client Fee Agreement
When you retain an attorney to represent you in a personal injury case, you will sign an attorney-client fee agreement. This agreement is a contract that sets forth the terms of the representation for your case. Your attorney should go over the fee agreement with you, and you should make sure to review it carefully and ask any questions you have about the agreement before signing. Here are some of the important elements of that agreement that can help you better understand what you are signing when you hire an attorney in a personal injury matter.
It may seem obvious, but the fee agreement should identify who the “client” is. In most personal injury cases, that will be you, and your name will be filled in as the client. However, in some situations, such as where a case is being brought on behalf of someone who is deceased, the client will actually be the administrator of the decedent’s estate, rather than that person as an individual. In other situations, there may be a loss of consortium claim, which allows a spouse to recover for the pain and suffering they have experienced because of the injury to their spouse. In that case, the non-injured spouse should also be identified as a client in the contract. In other circumstances, the client may be a business or organization. Your attorney will work with you to properly identify the client based on the facts and circumstances of your case, and that will be set forth in the fee agreement. It will also be essential for all clients identified in the fee agreement to sign it.
As you can expect from the name, the fee agreement should also include an explanation of the way fees and costs will be charged on the case. Most personal injury cases are handled on a contingency fee basis. This means the client is not charged a retainer fee, nor are they invoiced for work done on the case as it progresses. Instead, the attorney and the law firm agree to take on the case at no charge to the client and agree to front all expenses and perform all work without payment from the client during litigation. The way the attorney is paid for their work, and the law firm is reimbursed for the expenses fronted, is that when the case settles or resolves in a jury verdict of money paid to the client, the attorney will deduct a percentage from the total settlement as payment for the work performed on the case. This percentage may vary depending on whether the case settles before a lawsuit is filed versus after litigation and may also vary depending on the nature of the case. Any percentages that may be charged to the client will be set forth in the fee agreement. Additionally, the attorney will deduct the total amount of expenses incurred in resolving the case from the settlement to reimburse for the expenses fronted. If there is a fee split agreement between multiple law firms, that should be set forth in the fee agreement as well.
A fee agreement should also detail the scope of the representation. For a personal injury case, this would be stated to the effect of “I agree for this attorney to represent me for any and all claims I have against the defendants for the harms and injuries sustained as a result of the car wreck that occurred on this particular date.” Of course, the specifics of the defendants and date of the incident would be included in the actual agreement, but the point is the attorney represents the client for that particular incident as opposed to representing the client for any legal claims the client may have. For example, just because the client has retained an attorney to represent them for injuries sustained in a car wreck, that same lawyer is not agreeing to represent them in a divorce or criminal matter. The fee agreement confirms this.
These are some of the important elements of a fee agreement in a personal injury matter. Fee agreements often also contain other details, such as file retention policies, discussion of lien repayment obligations, and how any disputes over the contract will be resolved should any arise. Keep in mind that a fee agreement is a legally binding contract between you and your attorney, and you should feel free to ask your attorney questions about the fee agreement before signing it so you can have a good understanding of the representation agreement.