What Percentage Do Lawyers Take for Personal Injury?



Most personal injury lawyers in South Carolina work on a contingency fee basis. This type of agreement makes an experienced attorney immediately available to help with your case for very little (or no) upfront cost.


At Surasky Law, we have found contingency fee agreements work best in personal injury cases. Read on to learn more about this type of agreement answering the question of what percentage do lawyers take for personal injury, in particular, what percentage of your settlement a lawyer will take.


Understanding Contingency Fee Agreements

A contingency fee agreement is an agreement between you and your attorney about how the lawyer will get paid. Essentially, a lawyer agrees not to charge any attorney’s fees while representing you. However, if you win your case, the lawyer takes a percentage of the amount you are awarded. Contingency fee agreements apply to both settlements and jury verdicts if you go to trial.


And if your lawyer loses your case? In that situation, he receives nothing. That’s the risk a lawyer takes with a contingency fee agreement. Clients benefit with this arrangement, too, because they know their lawyer is doing everything possible to receive maximum compensation for their injuries.

When you meet with a personal injury attorney for a consultation, the lawyer should discuss their contingency fee agreement. Ask any questions you have.


We Accept 33-40% of Your Award

Most agreements call for an attorney to get 33-40% of the total amount you are awarded for your injuries. These percentages are fairly standard. Though you might try to negotiate a different amount, most lawyers have settled on these percentages because they fairly compensate the lawyer for their effort on the case, as well as their risk.


Here is an example: if you settle your case for $90,000, then your lawyer will probably get a third, or $30,000. You will receive $60,000, minus any costs (discussed below).


What is the “Sliding Scale”?

Cases can settle at any time. For example, some insurance adjusters will immediately agree to the amount included in the demand letter your attorney sends. Although immediate agreement is definitely not the norm, it sometimes happens.


By contrast, other cases won’t settle for months, after each side has gone through the discovery process, handing over documents and participating in depositions. And, in some extreme cases, the parties won’t settle until they are walking into court on the morning of the trial.


As you can imagine, the amount of work an attorney puts into a case will differ considerably, depending on when your case settles. If all a lawyer did was draft a demand letter, then he hasn’t done much work at all. Conversely, if he fully prepared for trial, then he has spent hundreds more hours on your case.


A “sliding scale” in a contingency fee agreement accounts for the different amounts of work. Generally, the sooner your case settles, the less a lawyer will receive. If you settle early, the lawyer will agree to take only 33%. However, if your case goes all the way to trial, the sliding scale might call for the lawyer to receive 40%. The increased percentage accounts for the extra work your lawyer has performed.


What about Costs?

There are certain costs that come with any personal injury lawsuit. These are expenses that you incur regardless of whether you win or lose your case. Certain costs include:

  • Photocopying

  • Postage

  • Phone bills

  • Deposition costs

  • Transcripts

  • Filing fees

  • Service of process fees

  • Medical records

  • Expert witness expenses

  • Trial exhibits

Generally, clients must reimburse their lawyer for litigation costs. You should talk with your attorney about this during a consultation.


Costs can be significant. A simple fender-bender might not cost much to litigate. But a more complicated accident—like a multi-car pileup—could cost thousands of dollars. And if a case goes to trial, then the costs to produce exhibits could add several more thousand.


Most attorneys will deduct costs from a settlement or jury award if you win. So you might have settled a claim for $90,000, with your lawyer agreeing to take a third. If costs equaled $3,000, you would receive $60,000 minus the $3,000, or $57,000 in total.


How Does a Lawyer Get Paid?

Let’s say you win your personal injury case, and the defendant’s insurer cuts a check to settle the matter. It is standard practice for the insurer to send the check to your attorney. Your lawyer should then provide an itemized list of expenses, so you can see what costs are deducted. The lawyer should then promptly send you a check for the amount you are paid.


How Do You Dispute Fees?

There are many sources of disagreement. For example, your attorney might have taken a greater percentage than you agreed to. Or he charged for certain costs that surprised you, or the costs were much higher than you anticipated. Your fee agreement should have left no confusion as to how much your attorney will get paid. But disputes do happen.


First, raise any concern regarding billing with your attorney. An item might have been included on the bill by accident and you want to give a lawyer a chance to fix it. If the lawyer still won’t budge, you can use the Fee Dispute Board set up by the South Carolina bar. They resolve fee disputes so that clients are not taken advantage of.


What if You Changed Attorneys Midway Through Your Case?

Injured victims have a right to fire their lawyer at any time. Few do, but it might be the only option to take if your lawyer breaches confidentiality or breaks some other ethical rule.

If you fire a lawyer before a case settles, then he will probably have a lien for the payment of costs. This lien will be paid out of your settlement, should you get one. These types of disputes often end up in front of the Fee Dispute Resolution Board.


Contact Surasky Law to Schedule a Consultation

We will gladly discuss our contingency fee agreements—as well as your personal injury case—in a free consultation. Surasky Law has represented injured victims for decades and has the professional experience necessary to obtain compensation in any type of personal injury case. Call orschedule a meeting online.

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