This is the third of a 3-part series on information for Oregon consumers about Oregon injury claims. This might make a little more sense if you have reviewed the background in Part 1 (claims and the Oregon system) and Part 2 (case process and uncertainty) so that this makes better sense.
Like everything else in our complicated world, the practice of law has become more specialized over the years. While some lawyers still manage to handle a wide range of cases, most limit themselves to one or a few areas. Personal injury tends to be one of those areas that requires a lot of special experience. For that reason, you’re generally better served by someone with significant experience in the area.
There are several considerations in hiring a lawyer to handle an injury claim. Most Oregon injury lawyers are content to work on a contingent fee. Under a contingent fee system, the lawyer gets paid for his or her time based on a percentage of what the lawyer recovers for the client. All of this should be in a written fee agreement that the lawyer explains to the client.
In addition to paying for the lawyer’s time, the client must also take responsibility for out-of-pocket expenses. Oregon law requires that the client remain legally responsible for costs. The rule is based on the theory that that if the client must be take responsible for costs, there will be less lawsuits.
The client may choose instead to hire the attorney by the hour. While this is certainly an option, in my experience, most middle income clients can’t afford to pay a lawyer by the hour. That’s why the contingent fee/percentage system works. Without it, access to the courts would be limited to corporations and wealthy people who can afford to pay legal fees by the hour.
The other advantage of the contingent fee is that it encourages your attorney to do whatever is necessary to get the good outcome. Contingent fee attorneys don’t have to worry about whether they’re over-billing or spending too much time on the case. That’s a good thing. As we say around this office, “Whatever it takes.”
Having said that, there are still times when you should consider hiring an attorney by the hour. When, for example, your case is simple and straightforward, an hourly arrangement may be appropriate.
Here is when the hourly arrangement is the better choice for consumers. In rare situations, your losses greatly exceed the amount of available insurance, and the attorney’s role is limited to confirming coverage and making sure the settlement agreement protects you. In that situation, the consumer comes out ahead by paying only for the time that the attorney spent on the matter.
As I said at the beginning of this series, this is advice I would rather that you not need. Still, better to be informed so that you can make the best choices as you move forward.