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Understand how attorney fees work before your case starts

You've probably seen plenty of ads by personal injury attorneys who say that "they don't get paid unless you get paid."What they mean is that they work on a contingency fee basis when it comes to personal injury claims -- which is a common type of arrangement. However, there are some important things that you should understand about contingency fees before you agree to one:

1. Some attorneys offer free consultations to personal injury clients, while others do not. There's nothing wrong with either method. Attorneys that offer free consultations will typically keep the consultations short (expect a half hour or less) and may only talk with you by phone. That's often long enough for an attorney to determine if you have a case and for the potential client to decide if that's the right attorney to handle his or her case.

If a consultation fee is charged, it's usually fairly small -- and often applied to your contingency fee or waived if you do decide to hire that attorney. That helps weed out people who aren't serious about their cases.

2. A contingency fee allows you to pursue a case without a retainer. However, that's not without cost to the attorney. You case may require investigators, consultations with doctors and expert witnesses -- and the attorney has to foot those bills for you without any guarantee that you'll win your case. Because of the risk that the attorney takes, it isn't uncommon for a contingency fee to be 1/3 (or more) of your final settlement agreement.

3. There may be other fees that get deducted prior to your payout. If so, it's important to understand what those are. For example, your contingency fee may not include the filing fee for any court documents. There may be extra fees for secretarial work or office work in general, such as having someone copy your medical records. These are not uncommon -- some attorneys will absorb the costs if they're small, while others may take them out of the gross award before they take their fee.

Essentially, even though contingency fees may be similar from one attorney to the next, they can vary in numerous important ways. Make sure that you understand the particulars before you start.

For more information about personal injury claims, talk to an attorney today.

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