The fact is that lawyers are constantly negotiating. Whether you're trying to settle a lawsuit or try to close a merger, you're negotiating. However, relatively few lawyers have learned the strategies and techniques of effective negotiation. On the other hand, most lawyers negotiate instinctively.
Your lawyer must be ready and able to defend you with zeal. But not all “fights” require strong arguments or strong language. Some cases could be very well, but others could be quite reasoned and without problems. Usually, the procedure of a negotiation is based on the type of matter and sometimes on the lawyer.
If your lawyer has experience with the opposing lawyer, this can be very useful in deciding what to file and how to file it to have the best impact on negotiations. Studies show that not only are you more likely to get compensation if you have an attorney in a personal injury case, but your settlement will be higher. This is because personal injury lawyers don't just accept the first offer you make. They negotiate and push for the maximum possible amount.
Research First Start by gaining a basic understanding of the different ways lawyers can charge you. The three main ways lawyers can bill are fixed fees, hourly fees, and contingency charges. Depending on the complexity of your case, one may make more sense than another. Be sure to discuss this in advance with your lawyer and, if your billing method doesn't meet your needs, be prepared to find a different lawyer.
Consider a flat fee: This method usually involves paying upfront before the lawyer starts working on your case. This can be expensive initially, but it can save you money in the long run. Fixed fees are ideal for simpler needs, such as wills, power of attorney, contracts, setting up a business, name changes, and uncontested divorces. Unlike most other types of lawyers, personal injury lawyers often work on a contingent basis.
This means that the lawyer is only paid when he successfully negotiates a settlement that you accept or win an award at trial. While this is a good system for the vast majority of injured clients, it can also be a costly proposition. The lawyer assumes the full risk of losing the case in exchange for a good part of a winning outcome, usually 33% to 40%. Here are three options you have to minimize the amount of money you'll have to give up from your court agreement or award to pay your lawyer.
By the time you first see an attorney, you may have already investigated your accident, obtained all the documents related to your claim, and negotiated with the insurance company to work out your initial settlement offer. If so, you will have done much of the work that the lawyer would normally do. Because of this, some lawyers may be willing to accept a lower percentage contingency charge than the normal 33% to 40%. Be sure to bring all of your documents to your initial meeting with the lawyer and show him the organized file you have gathered.
If you emphasize how much work will have been relieved to the attorney's office due to your efforts, the lawyer may agree to some type of reduced fee agreement. Of course, most lawyers won't suggest a reduced fee agreement; you'll probably have to propose one. And many lawyers are reluctant to agree, partly because they would earn less money, but also because they fear that the work that a person who is not a lawyer has done will not be of much value and they will have to do it again. It's your job to show them that your work has been useful and that the case is in good condition.
Make an agreement that if the lawyer can resolve your case only by negotiating an acceptable settlement, that is, without having to go through any actual litigation process, the lawyer will receive a 25% contingency fee. But if pre-lawsuit negotiations alone don't produce a satisfactory new settlement offer, the lawyer will receive the standard 33% contingency fee (40% if the case is finally formally scheduled for trial). The reason you accept the higher fee if there is no advance agreement is that the lawyer will need to start working on litigating the case, filing more complex legal documents, and working to prepare the case for trial. Sometimes, just because an attorney starts settlement negotiations on your behalf or files a standard claim form for you causes an insurance company to suddenly increase an offer to an acceptable figure.
That can happen because the insurance adjuster knows that if the matter is not resolved immediately, the insurance company's own legal costs could increase rapidly. Such a quick response may seem like good news to you. But if you have agreed to pay your lawyer the standard one-third contingency fee for handling your case, the lawyer will receive that large part of your compensation for having done almost no work. This is particularly true if, on your own, you have already submitted to the insurance company all the important documents and arguments of the case.
One way to avoid this windfall for the lawyer is to have your fee agreement cover such a situation. A lawyer can agree to limit fees if the insurance company makes an acceptable settlement offer after the lawyer has worked only a small amount of hours on the case. If the lawsuit is resolved within the number of attorney hours you specify, the settlement may provide that you pay the lawyer an hourly fee instead of the full contingency fee. You might consider hiring an attorney just to give you specific advice (for example, on a technical and legal topic) that can help you reopen your negotiations with the insurance company or prepare you for small claims court or arbitration.
Or, you can seek the help of an attorney just to prepare and file a lawsuit to protect your rights under your state's law of limitations. In such an advice-only agreement, the lawyer would not deal directly with the insurance company, put the name of the company in any correspondence or legal document, or appear before you in arbitration or court. You would still officially handle the case on your own, but you would have the benefit of any advice the lawyer gave you. If this advice still doesn't offer you a better offer from the insurance company, you can go back to the lawyer to discuss whether it makes sense for the lawyer to take over the full representation of your claim.
If you decide to hire an attorney by the hour, set a maximum number of hours that the lawyer can spend on your case without your prior approval to do more. Also, know that you will most likely have to pay the lawyer right away; the lawyer won't wait until you receive your accident compensation. For more information on working with a personal injury lawyer and what to expect from one, see AllLaw's resource section on How to Use a Personal Injury Attorney. If the lawyer doing that amount of work cannot resolve the lawsuit, the fee will change to a contingency agreement.
Fees are often of paramount importance to clients and lawyers, but they are one of the least discussed parts of any legal case. Consider an hourly rate. With this method, the lawyer bills you for the hours they work on your case. On the other hand, if you are injured and are still actively seeking treatment, your personal injury lawyer will likely recommend that negotiations be delayed until it becomes clear what the long-term consequences of your injuries will be.
Look Outside Your Area The fees charged by an attorney are based on a number of criteria, most notably their reputation. An attorney will be able to provide information on whether a case is in the best interest of the client to go to trial. In the criminal context, your criminal defense attorney may urge you to take a class or complete community service before starting negotiations. Consider Nonprofit and Pro Bono Attorneys Some lawyers will work for free (or significantly reduce costs) on cases that meet specific needs.
It is important that you explain to your lawyer what is most important to you, so that you can do everything possible to achieve your goals. . .