Straight Talk About Personal Injury Lawyer Marketing Claims
I’m going to bet that you’ve seen ads on television with lawyers loudly proclaiming that you won’t pay a dime unless you win your injury claim or action.
But ‘winning’ is a relative term when it comes to the negotiated settlement of a personal injury claim or suit (unlike the American courtroom dramas we all enjoy.)
The more accurate statement would be that you only pay when a settlement is recovered for you.
Like any business, in law, there are payment levels that change depending on the types of services rendered. Many lawyers and firms, in all areas of the legal industry, will offer free consultations. These aren’t meant for people to get as much information as they can for free, but to help both you and the lawyer to evaluate if you are a good fit to work together on your legal issue.
Let’s back up a little and look at the different ways that lawyers bill for their services in Ontario—not just personal injury lawyers.
If you’re working on a transaction, like the purchase or sale of a private home, the incorporation of a business or the production of a will, you will likely be charged a flat fee for your lawyer’s work, plus some expenses (known as disbursements), like if the lawyer must register your home purchase, or the fees for a title search or title insurance.
These transactional type legal proceedings are finite, and so a flat fee system works in these instances. If they were more complicated, like commercial real estate transactions, you might find that there is an hourly fee included too. Blended rates are common when what starts as a simple transaction evolves into something more.
If your legal matter is an ongoing situation, you might be paying for the services of a lawyer on an hourly basis. How much that comes to per hour depends on the level of experience your lawyer has.
There is no way to definitively state how much the final bill will be in cases where hourly fees are applied, but a lawyer with extensive experience in the area that you are dealing with should at least be able to give you a reasonable range, with the caveat that the final amount could be more!
Also, in legal situations where the time required to achieve a resolution is unknown, most firms will require a client to pay a retainer: that is an amount paid up front, from which the fees and disbursements are deducted until a zero balance is reached. If the matter is resolved prior to reaching the end of the money, the balance is returned to you. If you use up your retainer, you might be asked to top up your account.
Here are some examples of areas of law where you might expect a lawyer to charge you on an hourly basis, plus disbursements for expenses incurred on your behalf:
- Business / corporate law
- Criminal law
- Family / divorce law (although even here, there can be variation: a simple uncontested divorce which requires only the completion of some documents might be offered on a flat fee basis).
As a personal injury lawyer, I work on a contingency basis, as do most of my colleagues.
That means you don’t pay for my time until I’ve negotiated and recovered a settlement for you.
If, and this is a big ‘if’, there is no settlement achieved, or it is a very small amount, you are still be responsible for any expenses (disbursements).
However, getting to a point in a case where there is no amount recovered is a rare instance. You see, I won’t take on a case if I don’t have a reasonable expectation of being able to resolve in your favour, but I must address the possibility that it can happen.
What Are Disbursements?
Expenses (or disbursements) are payouts that a personal injury lawyer has made out on your behalf for certain kinds of work.
A great example of a disbursement for which you’d be responsible is an independent medical examination report.
The doctor / team in question will always charge for their time, and if the settlement negotiation or trial does not result in a positive outcome, that expense would be your responsibility. If you did receive a settlement, this expense would be added to the percentage that would be paid to me lawyer for me work.
And of course, there’s the only other sure thing in life (besides death): Taxes.
Clients must pay HST on fees and disbursements that your lawyer charges. There’s no way around this, unfortunately, and depending on the final bill, can be quite a hefty chunk of change. I wish I didn’t have to, but like you, I am beholden to the CRA.
You Have A Right Not To Expect Surprises
A personal injury lawyer worth their salt will always be clear on what these expenses are likely to be, so that you know exactly what you’re getting into.
The contingency method, however, is the best way to ensure that people who might not be able to afford a large upfront retainer can still afford the representation that will make or break the quality of the negotiated settlement they might receive in a personal injury claim.
Whatever your legal needs are, never let a lack of funds stop you from getting the advice you need. Up front, high quality advice might cost you a little, but the money it might save you down the line will likely be so much more.
If you’re injured in an accident, it’s vital to speak with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. It’s the only way to cover yourself in the event that your injuries end up being more serious than you think.