Attorney Fee Secrets

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.