Before hiring a car accident lawyer, make sure you discuss the fee arrangement with him or her. You will need to know specifically whether the lawyer will charge fees on a) the percentage of the settlement or judgment obtained, or b) the number of hours worked by the lawyer and his/her staff. You should also know who will pay for the disbursements (expenses) before the case is resolved. These details should be reduced to writing and both you and the lawyer should sign off on the retainer agreement.
Most personal injury claims are handled by lawyers on a contingency fee agreement. This means the lawyer will charge legal fees based on a percentage of the total recovery after the claim has settled or a court judgment pronounced. If there is no award, the lawyer cannot charge a fee.
Contingency agreements have a number of benefits, including:
- They allow you to have access to justice without having to pay for legal fees up front;
- You have certainty regarding the fees being charged;
- The bigger the recovery, the larger the fee. This incentivizes the lawyer to achieve the best outcome for you;
- Since there are no fees if no recovery, the lawyer will fight on your behalf to resolve issues such as liability in your favour.
Under the Law Society Rules (Part 8), the maximum fees that a lawyer can charge for a motor vehicle accident related personal injury case or a wrongful death care is 33.3% of the recovery. Some lawyers charge a lower fee initially and increase the fee as the case progresses and becomes more complex. For instance, if the case results in a court action or proceeds to trial.
Also, most contingency fee arrangements include provisions for the lawyers to fund the disbursements up front as they occur with the expectation that they will be repaid by ICBC at the conclusion of the claim. There may be interest charged on disbursements carried by the lawyer, but such interest is not recoverable from ICBC and will come out of your settlement or judgment.
In the event you decide to change lawyers or terminate your contingency agreement, you (or your new lawyer) may be responsible to pay back fees calculated on an hourly basis plus outstanding disbursements.
Make sure to carefully review the terms of the retainer agreement with your lawyer so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to hire him or her.