Attorneys have two basic ways of charging for their legal services. The charge can be a dollar rate per hour. The rate is usually much higher for representation in court before a judge and possible a jury than than for legal services rendered in the law office. The reason is that an attorney must be prepared for court by interviewing witnesses in advance, legal research, and investigation of facts of case. That is the usual method attorneys use to set their fees in criminal, divorce, child custody, legal research, real estate transactions. It can be used in any case or trial where the attorney and client agree that the legal fee will be calculated at an hourly rate. For most of legal history that was the only way lawyers were allowed to charged for legal services in both England, the mother country from where most American law was adopted, and in the American Colony's.
That is still true in England, but the concept of the contingent fee came into existence in American in the early twentieth century as the value of cases for damages in libel and slander, personal injuries, motor vehicle wrecks and industrial accidents increased to amounts whereby attorneys were willing to risk not being paid anything if they lost as opposed to being paid a percentage of the award if they won. Also, many injured clients were not financially able to pay the attorney on an hourly basis when industrialization and mechanization in America resulted in an enormous increase in injuries in society in general and industry in particular. That is why a fee is called contingent--it means the attorney agrees not to be paid a fee or for expenses incurred in the preparation if the case is lost or dropped without a settlement for a sum of money.
From the very beginning of my legal career more than 40 years age, it has been my personal opinion, that the contingent fee has been and continues to be abused as to the percentage amounts that many lawyers choose to charge. I have always considered 25% a fair percentage of the gross recovery when the facts support a strong expectation that the case will eventually settle. Most experienced attorneys can--or should be able to--look at the facts and law in the case and accurately tell whether the case will in all probability settled without a suit having to be filed, thereby avoiding and saving the expense of all the time necessary to prepare for a trial. It is also my opinion that should the facts and law of a case require a suit and trial 33 1/3% is fair and reasonable in almost all cases to compensate the attorney.
I have always felt it excessive for the attorney to charge the client a 40 to 50% contingent fee of the value of their case in most instances. My opinion has not been, nor is it now, the prevailing attitude of attorneys charging contingent fees. Most attorneys in the past who charged such percentages justified them on the basis of the expense of preparation for litigation. More recently, the tremendous cost of advertising, especially television and billboards, is an additional justification attorneys like to use to rationalize such fees, even though they know most cases settle without suit or trial, and without a large expenditure of the legal time of the attorney or investigative and preparation expense. It seems to be an all-to-often scenario--and shows much about the character of the attorney involved--that the attorney who becomes a heavily invested advertiser will pass most cases of less serious injury and value off to other more inexperienced attorneys who either contract with or are employed by the advertising attorney to handle and settle. So what the advertising attorney says about the insurance adjustors being afraid is not true in reality. Rather the adjuster know they are dealing with a younger and more inexperienced attorney and the adjuster knows the attorney wants and needs to settle because of knowledge of how the advertising attorney does business. And, in a high volume practice produced by heavy advertising, it is easy for the attorneys involved to fall prey to the pressure of settling cases as quickly as possible, with as little expenditure of overhead as possible.
My son and I have, and always will, handle our cases personally. We discuss the law and facts of the case with the client and explain why we are setting the contingent fee at the percentage--usually 25% and no more than 33 1/3% of the gross recovery. We will explain if the contingent fee is set by statute such as 15% in Alabama Worker Compensation, 25% in Georgia Worker Compensation, and 25% of past due benefits in Social Security Disability cases. We will always be available to our clients. We will look into the future to try to project whether the medical condition and future prognosis may suggest the client may be a candidate for social security disability. We keep up with the law of Alabama and Georgia and are prepared to assist our clients in most legal needs. When appropriate we will make recommendations for future medical services to consider or legal services other than ours to consider. When we represent a client we take on the whole client and not just his or her injury case.
Last but not least, the client can be financially abused by the attorney in the way the attorney charges for expenses in addition to the percentage contingent fee. In almost all contingent fee contracts, there is a provision in the written agreement for the attorney to recover court costs and expenses of litigation. This provision is all to often used as a vehicle by attorneys, with less than an altruistic attitude toward the client, of extracting more money from the settlement of the client. Here is where the character of the attorney comes into highest relief. And, here is where the attorneys who feel free and guiltless in charging the client 40 to 50% of their settlement also frequently feel free to charge for every possible expense they could think up that might be remotely related to a case, even though the same charges are are very likely being assessed against other clients for the same overhead. My son and I, have never, and will never, pad our expenses to extract more money out of the client. We explain any expenses.
We look forward to you calling our firm to allow us to represent you the old fashion way--respectfully, personally and individually.