Plaintiffs usually can't afford to hire lawyers on an hourly-basis, so they enter into a contingency-fee agreement. What that means is that instead of a set fee, the plaintiff's lawyer will receive a percentage of whatever money he or she is able to obtain for the plaintiff.
In almost all contingency-fee agreements, the lawyer will pay for all case expenses from his or her own pocket. If the lawyer loses the case, the plaintiff doesn't owe the attorney these expenses.
Common contingency fees are anywhere from 25% to 50%, depending upon the complexity of the case. Lawyers may not legally charge contingency fees in criminal cases, and are discouraged from charging them in family law cases.
Contingency fee agreements allow plaintiffs with no money to hire a lawyer they wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. With contingency fee agreements, lawyers are motivated to get their client's as much money as possible, in as little time as possible.
Sometimes, a lawyer will receive a large fee for a case in which he or she performed very little work. Conversely, lawyers will often invest a great deal of time and their own money into a case, only to lose and not get paid anything.
Some tort reformers want to eliminate contingency fees entirely, while others want to reduce the percentage that lawyers may charge. Supporters of contingency fees argue that if contingency fees were reduced or eliminated, lawyers wouldn't take on complicated cases.
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