What can I do if my attorney said he'll take my case for free and now asks for 40% fee? 22 Answers as of March 20, 2013

I have a lawyer who from the beginning, over a year ago, said he would take my case, and for free, now he's asking for 40% and that's NOT including out of pocket, I think this is crazy? What are the normal rates. I'm going to be fighting against the state, he wants to do this federally too.

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Lapin Law Offices
Lapin Law Offices | Jeffrey Lapin
All fee agreements in which a contingency fee will be charged, in your case 40%, must be in writing and must specify how much, usually a percentage, your attorney shall receive as a fee. The fee agreement should specify whether the fee is taken from the gross amount collected or from the net. If the fee is based on the net amount, the fee agreement should specify what items are deducted from the gross recovery to determine the net amount. Costs and expenses ("legal fees"), depending on the fee agreement, may be taken in addition to an attorney fee based on the gross amount recovered or may be an item that reduces the attorney fees (so the fee is based on a net recovery). Did you sign a written retainer or similar agreement with the attorney? If so and it says your attorney is entitled to 40% plus his out-of-pocket expenses then your options are: discharge the attorney; try to re-negotiate the fee; or accept the agreement as it is. If you did not sign a written agreement your attorney cannot collect 40% of any settlement, verdict or judgment. At that point you and the attorney can either try to agree on a fee percentage or you can look for a new attorney. As to what are "normal rates" there are not necessarily any "normal rates." The rates an attorney charges depends on a number of factors, including, but not limited to: the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services. A 40% contingency fee is not necessarily "crazy" especially if the likelihood of your winning is small or based on other factors.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 3/20/2013
Law Offices of Ronald A. Steinberg & Associates | Ronald A. Steinberg, BA, MA, JD
No attorney in their right mind will take a case for free. You obviously misunderstood. What the lawyer probably said was that he/she would take it on a contingency. That means that the lawyer gets a percentage if you win a percentage of zero is always zero.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 2/21/2013
Law Office of Christian Menard
Law Office of Christian Menard | Christian Menard
If an attorney takes a case on a contingency basis, he must have a negotiated fee agreement signed both by the client and him. Without such an agreement, the attorney I'd limited to receiving a reasonable fee dependant on, among other things, the time spent on the case. Since your question implies what your attorney intends to do, I am assuming he has done no more than an initial case review with perhaps some investigation. I would find a new attorney....one who will stick to his original agreement.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 2/7/2013
Ernst & Marko Law Firm
Ernst & Marko Law Firm | Jonathan Marko
Any fee over 33% in personal injury cases is illegal and unethical in Michigan. This is set by the Michigan Supreme Court. You should contact an attorney knowledgeable in this area, such as myself, as soon as possible to evaluate your claim.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 2/6/2013
Adler Law Group, LLC
Adler Law Group, LLC | Lawrence Adler
It is not likely that he agreed to do it for free. He may have said there is no legal fee unless he wins your case. It all comes down to what agreement you signed.
Answer Applies to: Connecticut
Replied: 2/6/2013
    Pingelton Law Firm | Dan Pingelton
    Only a true "pro bono" case is worked for free. Lawyers will occasionally do those just to help people out, and for the public good. For a case like yours, the attorney will need to get paid, and should get paid. Your attorney is offering to do it for a contingency fee, which means no money out of your pocket unless you get paid. That's a pretty good deal for you. Sounds to me like you're greedy. Defendants always fight these claims, and it's a lot of hard work. Do you think someone should work for free for you? Would you spend hundreds of hours working for free? Agree to pay your lawyer by signing a contingency fee agreement or walk away and get nothing. But stop complaining about needing to pay someone for their hard work.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Curry, Roby & Mulvey Co., LLC
    Curry, Roby & Mulvey Co., LLC | Bruce A. Curry
    The normal rate for a personal injury case is 33% plus costs. Ethically, an attorney cannot cover your costs for you. Assuming your attorney did in fact agree to work your case on a pro bono basis, and the case has settled, I would instruct the attorney that the funds he claims are due to him as his fee be held in trust while you contact the local bar association to see if the issue can be arbitrated. I think the fact that you presumably don't have a written fee agreement is evidence that the attorney did in fact agree to work pro bono on the case. If the case is not settled, your best bet is probably to fire your current attorney and find someone else.
    Answer Applies to: Ohio
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Benson Law Firm
    Benson Law Firm | David Benson
    You should look to your fee agreement that you signed at the beginning of your case.
    Answer Applies to: Ohio
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Andrew T. Velonis, P.C.
    Andrew T. Velonis, P.C. | Andrew Velonis
    Do you have a retainer agreement? If so, see what it says. If you don't, then he can't demand a fee. But, if he hasn't yet filed papers, he can decide he doesn't want to go forward. If he has filed papers, he might be able to withdraw, but he'll have to get court permission. Typical rate is one-third, after expenses are taken out.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    David F. Stoddard
    David F. Stoddard | David F. Stoddard
    To answer your question, what can you do? You can terminate you attorney's representation and try to find another attorney. 40% plus costs is a normal fee for complex cases where liability is disputed. These fees are often charged in employment litigation, products liability. Medical Malpractice, and suits alleging government misconduct. It would be extremely unusual to find n attorney to do any such a case for free. I suspect that the attorney agreed to for no charge investigate, evaluate and determine whether it is a case he would accept , and you misunderstood this. For an attorney to evaluate your case for free is a valuable endeavor as many attorneys charge for this, only to advise the client that they cannot accept the case. If you are not satisfied with the 40% fee, perhaps you should fire your attorney, and look for another attorney and let them know that you are no seeking a contingency fee, but that you would like to pay an hourly rate, to be paid even if you lose. Expect the attorney to ask for an up front deposit, and to want you to deposit additional sums from time to time so that your deposits are ahead of the hourly billing. I have found that most of my clients prefer the 40% contingency fee. Keep in mind that the attorney is taking all of the risk if the case is lost, and you have zero at risk.
    Answer Applies to: South Carolina
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Henry Lebensbaum | Henry Lebensbaum
    Look at fee agreement.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo | Mark Leonardo
    If so, show that to him and ask him to stand by his word. But, any attorney can withdraw at any time, just like you can discharge your attorney at any time. Is he a family friend was he helping you just to try and settle but now is taking it to court.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Durham Jones & Pinegar | Erven Nelson
    You probably should fire your current lawyer and hire a replacement lawyer. The two lawyers can work out whether or not they split any fees. Standard fees range from 25% -34% if a case settles prior to filing a lawsuit. After filing a lawsuit, it will increase 5-10%. If there is an appeal, it will increase another 5-10%.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Christensen Law Group, PLLC
    Christensen Law Group, PLLC | D. Michael O'Neil, Jr.
    You may have misunderstood your attorney's remarks and the nature of a contingent fee agreement. Return to your attorney to discuss this with him. Either enter into a written agreement with your attorney, or hire another. Insist on a written engagement agreement with your attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Oklahoma
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    James E. Hasser, Jr. P.C.
    James E. Hasser, Jr. P.C. | Jim Hasser
    My guess is you probably misunderstood the lawyer. He probably told you he would take your case and there would be no charge unless there was a recovery. That is called a "contingency basis". As far as the normal % rates for contingency cases, that varies depending on the type of case. Normal contingency rates vary and are negotiable. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    What type of case? injury cases are typically contingent [% based]. No fee if no recovery. Others are fee based and usually require a dollar an mount to retain the office. If you have a dis put over fees, contact the local bar association for mediation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Peters Law, PLLC
    Peters Law, PLLC | Mark T. Peters, Sr.
    You have to think about what he really said. I will bet you that he said that he would take the case with no out of pocket from you. That is not free, it just means that he will advance the costs. In Idaho, 40% of the award is fairly standard. However, if you think your attorney lied to you, file a complaint with the Idaho State Bar.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Frank Law Group, P.C.
    Frank Law Group, P.C. | David E. Frank
    Normal contingency in CA is 33.33% if case resolves by settlement, 40% or higher if resolution is through trial. Plus costs. No recovery, no fee. What he/she probably told you was no cost to you unless they win. What reason would there be for an attorney to handle a case for free? Makes no sense that they would have said that, plus it would be entirely unfair to the attorney through whose effort you ultimately receive money.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Maurice L. Abarr  Lawyer, Inc.
    Maurice L. Abarr Lawyer, Inc. | Maurice L. Abarr
    What is crazy is that he would ever say that he would do it for free. If you signed an agreement with him which promised him a 40% contingent fee out of gross recovery then he is entitled to that amount. If there is no such written agreement and you believe you can do better elsewhere, then terminate his services and seek other counsel. Know, however, that 40% is completely reasonable for contingency fee cases these days and some lawyers charge even more.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    Bozich & Korn | Joseph A. Korn
    Without reviewing your agreement, it is hard to comment on this. No one should ever perform work for a client without a written agreement in place, even pro-bono (free) work. You may be misunderstanding what he said to you. In a typical personal injury case attorneys will charge you 1/3 to 40% on any recovery that is made, PLUS out of pocket expenses, that the attorney paid on your behalf. However, if you do not recover, many attorneys will not seek recovery of those out of pocket expenses, but that is typically up to each attorney's discretion.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 2/6/2013
    The Law Office of Stephen R. Chesley, LLC
    The Law Office of Stephen R. Chesley, LLC | Stephen R. Chesley
    Depending upon what your case is about would depend on fee arrangements. In New York In a personal injury case the standard fee arrangement is one third after costs and disbursement .
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 2/6/2013
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