California contingency attorney trying to charge 40% (instead of 33 1/3%) for a trial that never happened. We went to arbitration and settled the case there. There are no trial prep, pre-trial or trial fees on my final settlement - can they do that?
2 Answers from Attorneys
First of all: your fees are governed by contract. If you read the contract at the time that you signed it then none of this would be a surprise. Second: the standard fee structure almost every personal injury attorney in the state charges is one third of any recovery out of court, 40% of any recovery after the filing of the lawsuit. Some lawyers charge an additional level of 45% or 50% at the time of picking the jury. In arbitration cases, you are considered in court at the time that you demand arbitration. It sounds to me like your lawyer took the case pretty far and you agreed to a settlement short of the arbitration hearing, but perhaps now you have some buyers remorse and you're not happy with how much you're getting in your pocket, so you want to save money off of your legal fees. Just remember that this lawyer has worked on this case all this time without getting paid a single dime and with no guarantees that he ever would get paid. Consider yourself lucky because most lawyers will charge an upfront retainer between five and $10,000 against which they bill $250-$450 per hour, and if you don't pay they don't work, and if you're not happy with the result you don't get your money back
Your lawyer's contingent fee is set by your contract and not by law. A uniform fee of 33-1/3% is neither required nor expected. If you believed that it was even though your contract said otherwise, then that was your mistake.