Skip to main content

What You Need to Know: Contingency

By July 21, 2020February 28th, 2024Legal 101

One common and very valid concern we hear from people who want to take legal action is money. Let’s face it, lawyers can be expensive and the last thing you want on top of everything else is debt.

 The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants all criminally accused people the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his or her defense, even if the accused can not afford to hire Counsel. However, there is no such “free” legal help for people who have been harmed and want to seek compensation from the people or institutions that hurt them. While you could theoretically file a lawsuit against an institution yourself, it would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention very complicated, to do so.

At A Case for Women, it’s really important to us that you are not put at financial risk when you take legal action. And, luckily, there is a way to work with awesome attorneys and never owe a cent of your own money: it’s called contingency.

What is Contingency?

Lawyers who work on a contingency basis front all the costs, including their time and expenses, to take on your case. They do this at their own risk with no guarantee that they will recoup their expenses.  If the attorneys conclude your case in a positive way,they’ll receive  a percentage of the overall compensation  at the end. If they don’t win or settle, they eat all the costs plus their time. So you either win something or lose nothing. Contingency is an incredible way to make different kinds of legal actions accessible, but is only limited to certain kinds of civil cases such as injuries from medical devices, pharmaceuticals, sexual assault, car injuries, etc.  Lawyers are prohibited from working on contingency for criminal defense, family law, bankruptcy, and immigration cases. 

What determines the percentage?

The percentage of the contingency fee varies depending on the type of case, but usually ranges from 33.3%-45%. That said, contingency agreements are regulated on the state level, and states have different caps on the amounts lawyers can get depending on the recovery amount. So if your state caps the contingency amount at 33.3% and you sign a contingency agreement that says 40%, the firm will still only get 33.3%.

In addition to the contingency fee, there are also some small expenses that the lawyers can receive from a verdict or  settlement as well. These are divided among all the plaintiffs and scrutinized by a judge – so they are usually very nominal and include things like Fedex and printing costs.

What about pro bono?

When a lawyer works “pro bono” (from a latin phrase meaning “for the public good”), they are working for free – essentially volunteering their time and resources. Generally, pro bono programs help people with very low incomes who are elderly, disabled, the victims of domestic violence, enlisted in the military, or who have other special circumstances. Though these programs do vital work, they often have tight budgets and don’t have the resources to serve everyone or take on bulldog corporate lawyers.

Why should the law firm get anything when I was the one who was hurt?

Think about it this way: would you work for someone (possibly) for years with no pay and no possibility of payment? When a law firm agrees to work on contingency, they take on quite a bit of financial risk, so you don’t have to. In addition to their skilled labor and time, they front all expenses and need to also maintain their operational costs. Like you and me, they also have their own bills and families to feed!

From our experience, bringing on an experienced contingency lawyer ultimately pays for itself. The kinds of issues we work on often have the potential for significant recovery – so while nothing is guaranteed (of course), if there is a positive verdict or settlement, you will most likely still be receiving significant compensation even after the fees and expenses are deducted. And remember, if the attorneys  don’t win or settle for you, they don’t get paid either, so maximizing the recovery is in both your interests.

We’re proud to have made legal action on contingency accessible to thousands of people. If you’d like us to look into your legal options for something, we’re here for you. Get started here.