Contingency Fee

A contingency fee is a type of fee often used by attorneys that’s dependent upon a case’s outcome. The client only has to pay if their lawyer successfully secures compensation for them. Otherwise, they pay nothing, so there’s no financial risk to take legal action. This fee structure offers several advantages to clients who may be unable to pay attorney fees upfront to get the legal help they need. Icon

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What Is a Contingency Fee Agreement?

A contingency fee is a payment agreement between an attorney and a client. Instead of paying an upfront or hourly rate, the client agrees to pay the attorney a percentage of any compensation recovered.

This percentage is usually between 20% and 50%, according to Cornell Law School.

How Does a Contingency Fee Work?

Your attorney will likely spend a great deal of time researching cases similar to yours, compiling evidence, and building a strong case on your behalf. They won’t get paid during this time. However, if they secure $500,000 for you through a settlement and your fee agreement is 30%, you’ll take home $350,000, and they’ll receive $150,000.

If they don’t secure any money for you, you pay nothing.

This arrangement is commonly used in personal injury cases, where clients seek compensation for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence. It allows people with limited financial means to take legal action without the burden of upfront costs.

A contingency fee arrangement is based on the principle that everyone should have access to legal representation, regardless of their financial situation.

By agreeing to take a case on a contingency fee basis, an attorney assumes the risk of not being paid if the case is unsuccessful. This motivates the attorney to work diligently to achieve a favorable outcome for the client.

On the flip side, this fee arrangement benefits the client since they aren’t on the hook for attorney fees if they don’t secure any money.

3 Advantages of Contingency Fee Arrangements

There are several advantages to finding an attorney who takes cases on a contingency fee basis. Learn more below.

1. Financial Accessibility and Affordability

One of the primary benefits of contingency fees is that they allow individuals who cannot afford the upfront costs of hiring an attorney to file a lawsuit.

Clients can work with experienced lawyers without worrying about costly fees, enabling them to pursue justice and hold wrongdoers accountable.

2. Risk Sharing Between Lawyer and Client

In a contingency fee arrangement, the attorney assumes the risk of not being paid if the case is unsuccessful. The attorney’s success is directly tied to the success of the client’s case, creating a partnership where both parties are invested in achieving a favorable outcome.

This arrangement motivates the attorney to invest time, resources, and expertise in building a solid case. Clients can actively participate in the legal process, knowing their attorney’s efforts are dedicated to securing a favorable resolution.

This shared risk encourages open communication and trust, leading to a more effective legal strategy.

Contingency fees can lead to more passionate representation and a higher advocacy level than cases where attorneys are paid upfront regardless of the outcome.

3. Allowing Everyday People to Sue Powerful Corporations

Working with an attorney who takes cases on a contingency fee basis allows the average person to take on powerful companies with extensive financial wealth and teams of attorneys on their side.

These attorneys are often affiliated with national firms that have key resources to even the playing field for consumers harmed by dangerous products, corporate wrongdoing, or medical malpractice.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Fee Arrangement

Choosing a lawyer who will take your case on a contingency fee basis can significantly impact your case and financial well-being. As a result, it’s important to carefully evaluate various factors before making a decision.

These factors include:

  • The nature and complexity of your case
  • Your financial situation
  • Your comfort level with the potential costs

If you have limited financial resources and are pursuing a personal injury case, a contingency fee arrangement may be the most suitable option.

On the other hand, for less complex cases or if you prefer more control over the costs, other fee arrangements — like flat fees or hourly rates — may be more appropriate. For example, a flat fee may make more sense if you’re having a lawyer create a will or review a contract.

It is crucial to assess the level of risk associated with your case when selecting a fee arrangement. Contingency fees can benefit clients with strong cases but limited funds, as they shift the risk to the attorney.

Consulting with an experienced attorney can help you determine the best fee arrangement for your case. A reputable attorney will explain your options, the potential costs involved, and help you make an informed decision that aligns with your goals and financial circumstances.

Contingency Fee FAQs

What do most lawyers charge for a contingency fee?

The contingency fee most lawyers charge ranges from 20-50% of the money they secure for you, according to Cornell Law School. The amount of work an attorney will put into your case may influence this percentage.

Ask any attorneys you interview about the contingency fee they plan to charge in your case.

Can a contingency fee be negotiated?

Possibly. While contingency fee percentages are often non-negotiable, there may be room for negotiation in certain circumstances.

Factors like the case’s complexity, the likelihood of success, and the potential recovery amount can influence the negotiation process.

Some attorneys may be willing to adjust their contingency fee percentage based on the work required, the level of risk involved, or the client’s financial situation. Being upfront about your expectations and discussing any concerns can facilitate a constructive conversation about the fee arrangement.

What is the problem with contingency fees?

Some critics say that contingency fees encourage lawsuits that have no legal merit and can be too high in certain cases when the risk that a lawyer takes is factored in.

However, in many cases, contingency fees are the only way for some people to afford legal representation and pursue compensation and justice.

Are contingency fees legal in the U.S.?

Yes, contingency fees are legal in the United States. However, there are rules that govern their application. For example, in most states, contingency fees are not allowed in criminal cases or family law matters like divorce. Icon

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  1. American Bar Association. (2020, December 3). “Fees and expenses.” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
  2. Cornell Law School. (2022, July). “contingency fee.” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
  3. Cornell Law School. (2022, July). “contingent fee” Retrieved April 29, 2024, from
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