All too often, we speak to clients who have delayed in calling a lawyer for fear of the eventual bill. It is a fear we certainly understand – after all, no one enjoys receiving a bill, and so many costs have gone up in recent years, from the cost of gasoline to the cost of a gallon of milk. Still, even despite a recent spotlight on legal fees charged to Panama City, the attorney's fee system we use for the vast majority of our Northwest Florida personal injury matters ensures that our bills are not an added source of stress in an already difficult time.
An article by WJHG's reporting team is fueling concerns about the costs of legal services by focusing on the unique example of Panama City's own legal bills. Last year, the City Commissioners hired a local firm to do the city's legal work, and Commissioner John Kady is expressing concern after a recent bill that included charges for discussions with the city's realtor for what Kady references as a basic matter. In April, the city's primary counsel submitted a bill for $8,000, a pretty typical amount for the city's needs. In contrast, the latest bill which covers October 2013 is for over $30,000.
Currently, as Kady notes, a number of major issues, such as land use litigation and the marina matters, are handled by outside counsel, so the high bill from inside counsel is, per the Commissioner, unexpected. The firm's fees have come under scrutiny before, prior to the time when the Commissioners hired an in-house lawyer in 2006. It was also an issue discussed during the firm selection process.
The attorney declined to comment for WJHG's report. Kady expressed a need for improved communications between the City Manager's Office and the law firm in order to hold down legal costs.
Generally speaking, there are three types of fee arrangements allowed by the Florida Bar Association:
At The Pittman Firm, we typically use this final type of fee arrangement. With a contingent fee, the lawyer agrees to accept a portion of the client's eventual recovery as payment. This mean the lawyer does not get paid any fees unless you recover damages (including via settlement or trial verdict). If you do successfully recover, the lawyer receives an agreed-upon percentage of the recovery. The bar rules require that the firm and client agree to the contingency fee system in a written agreement signed at the start of the representation. This means the fee should never catch a client off-guard. Clients may still be charged for certain cost outlays, such as court filing costs and the fees paid to any expert witnesses.
Contingency fees may seem high, but the law firm is also running the risk of not receiving any fees if the case is unsuccessful. There are several special characteristics associated with a contingent fee. First, it aligns the interests of the client and the attorney; we not only want you to win because we believe in our clients, but we also have a vested financial interest in your victory (and in getting you the most money possible). Second, it avoids the sometimes backwards incentive of the hourly fee, where a lawyer benefits from prolonging a matter when more hours mean a higher fee. Finally, contingent fees mean that clients need not worry that they cannot afford an attorney since there are no fees unless you win your case.
Call today to discuss your case, our work, and our fee arrangements. In the few cases in which we use an hourly or flat charge, we can work with you on an affordable payment agreement. No matter what fee arrangement applies, including our most common contingent fee arrangement, we will make sure you understand the agreement before we start working on your case. Remember: your success is our success, both a practice philosophy and an economic truth.