by Peter Buxton, trial lawyer
WHAT IS THE CONTINGENCY FEE AGREEMENT?
Most personal injury lawyers in British Columbia offer their clients a Contingency Fee Agreement whereby they agree to do the legal work for a percentage of the proceeds of settlement or judgment at trial. This is favourable for the client because they do not have to pay the legal fee until the conclusion of the claim.
As well, most personal injury lawyers will agree to carry the expenses, known as disbursements, related to the claim until the conclusion of the claim, when they are generally paid by the other party in addition to the amount to be paid to the client. The lawyer will likely expect to be paid interest on those disbursements in return for funding them over the time it takes to settle the claim or get judgment at trial.
HOW MUCH ARE THE PERCENTAGE FEES?
Most experienced personal injury lawyers charge between 25% and 33 1/3% for work they do on the file. It can be sliding scale starting at 25%, going up to 30% upon the passage of time and a significant step being taken in the lawsuit such as Examination for Discovery (more later) and then going up again to 33 1/3% as your lawyer makes final preparation for and attands at trial. Note that the Rules of the Law Society provide that subject to the Supreme Court approving higher fees, the maximum compensation to which a lawyer is entitled in a claim for personal injury or wrongful death arising out of the use or operation of a motor vehicle is 33 1/3% of the total amount recovered.
WHAT ARE DISBURSEMENTS?
Disbursements are the expenses that must be paid from time to time to fund personal injury litigation. They include court fees, transcript fees, medical records and opinion fees, office expenses and other miscellaneous outside fees relating to the lawsuit. The Contingency Fee Agreement often provides that these expenses are paid from time to time by the lawyer and that the client can reimbuse the lawyer as the fees are incurred or choose to have the lawyer carry the expenses until the conclusion of the claim when they are to be paid together with interest. This is a matter that may be discussed between client and lawyer at the time of the first meeting.
WHAT ABOUT TERMINATING THE CONTINGENCY FEE AGREEMENT BEFORE THE CONCLUSION OF THE CLAIM?
The Contingency Agreement will set out the terms under which the lawyer or the client may choose to end the retainer agreement and how the lawyer’s fees and any disbursements owing might be paid out or protected. Generally a client has the right to terminate the agreement for any reason while a lawyer may only do so at certain times and for certain reasons. This is something that should be fully discussed and understood by both parties during the first meeting.
Most Contingency Fee Agreements only govern the conduct of the litigation up to and including the conclusion of the trial and any related hearings to determine final points of law or the costs that one party may owe to the other. If there is an appeal by either party from the judgment at trial in the case, the lawyer and client will need to enter into another agreement. However, while each party may have the right to appeal a judgment at trial, that course of action is rare.
CAN THE CONTINGENCY FEE AGREEMENT BE REVIEWED BY ANOTHER PARTY?
Most lawyers will allow you to consult with friends, family or another lawyer regarding the terms of the Contingency Fee Agreement before you sign it. As well, after signing the Agreement, the client entering into a Contingency Fee Agreement has the right until 90 days after the Agreement was made, or the retainer between the lawyer and the client was terminated (at the conclusion of the claim), to apply to a District Registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia to have the Agreement reviewed. If necessary the Registrar can order changes to the Agreement. This right exists even if the client has paid the lawyer under the agreement.
If you have any questions about this post or relating to your motor vehicle accident or injuries contact me today for a free consultation by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 604.372.4550.
Visit my website at https://panlegal.ca/peter-buxton-qc