How Do I Hire An Attorney? : LUSENET : Online Client Handbook : One Thread

Some Nuts-And-Bolts Issues About Hiring An Injury Attorney

Copyright ) 2000 Robert P. Holmes All Rights Reserved

A Free Consultation Is Often Available

How does one go about hiring a lawyer? Many attorneys in North Carolina who represent injured people will allow at least one free consultation with a potential client so that the both the lawyer and the potential client can determine if a business relationship would be mutually desirable.

Written Legal Service Agreements Strongly Preferred

If the lawyer and the potential client decide to form an attorney-client relationship, then the lawyer should provide a clearly written document describing the relationship and describing the attorneys' fees and costs. (Be sure to know the difference between fees and costs. The NC State Bar Rules require that a client, must "remain ultimately liable" for out-of-pocket costs, even in cases where there is no recovery! More on this later.)

Contingent Fees Are Common In Injury Cases

The NC State Bar Rules strongly encourage written legal service agreements, not just oral agreements. In North Carolina, it is common for injury attorneys to work on a "contingency basis", or, in other words, for a "contingent fee." A contingent fee is a fee which is a percentage of the amount recovered. Typically, if there is no recovery, then the lawyer would be entitled to no fee.

There is not a single standard contingency fee percentage. When setting a fee, lawyers consider the difficulty of the case, the time required by the case, the skill required and a number of other factors.

Client Is Liable For Costs, Even If There Is No Recovery

Even where there is a pure contingent fee agreement and there is no recovery, thus no attorney fee, a client is always responsible for costs. This is mandated by the NC State Bar. Costs are the expenses of handling a claim or lawsuit. Examples of costs would include private investigator fees, expert witness or consultant fees, court reporter fees, court filing fees, service of process fees, exhibit preparation fees and other out-of-pocket expenses.

It is permissible for a lawyer to pay the costs when they are incurred and to then bill the client later, but the client must remain ultimately responsible for paying the costs, even if there is no recovery. The handling of costs varies considerably from lawyer to lawyer and sometimes from case to case within the same law practice. It would be common for a lawyer to incur minor costs and then bill the client at a later date. With larger costs, for instance a doctor's deposition where the costs may easily total $1,000 or more, it would be common for the lawyer to require the client to advance the costs.

In other situations, the lawyer may even decide to advance expensive deposition costs and bill the client later. In some situations, the lawyer may be willing to wait until the conclusion of the case to bill the client. It all depends on the specific circumstances of the case.

Lawyers Are Prohibited From Loaning Money To Clients

The NC State Bar Rules govern all sorts of arrangements between lawyers and their clients. Commonly, injured persons find themselves in financial difficulty because of disability and loss of wages. In such a situation, a client may ask the lawyer for a loan to help through these difficult times. Rule 1.8 prohibits an attorney from loaning money to a client. The only exception to this prohibition is the advancement of actual litigation costs as described above.

To see a sample of a legal services agreement, click on the "Back" button of your browser and then click on "Sample Legal Services Agreement."

Robert P. Holmes
Raleigh, NC

-- Robert Holmes (, February 02, 2000

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