Make sure what type of case you’re talking about. There are lawyers that charge by the hour, for example if you’re looking at a will or a business transaction. Famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, a lawyers stock and trade is his time and advice.
In the type of work we do is personal injury consultation, and we do not charge by the hour. We can normally tell someone in a sit-down interview or over the phone we can usually tell if they have a case that we think has merit or we can pursue. If that is the case we work on a contingency fee.
What can people expect to pay? What I would tell people is they have the right to know the fees upfront, and they need to have it in writing. The fees can vary by the type of case, if you’re in a personal injury case, a standard car wreck case, and the fee is more than 1/3, I would ask why? If it’s a complex products liability case, sometimes the fees can be 40%. Workers Comp cases in Tennessee are 20%. If it’s someone doing transaction work or patent work, it is not uncommon to get charged by the hour with a retainer.
What kind of communication is there after the hire. Communication is very important. Two complaints that I get from clients that have had other lawyers, and that is they don’t hear from them and they don’t return phone calls. Number 2, the case has not progressed in a timely manner, or at least what that person thinks is a timely manner. So I would say you expect to get calls back, and our policy is to return calls within 24 hrs if at all possible. Unless it’s a Sunday or something, maybe perhaps. Secondly, we send out periodic letters every 90 days, and it’s sent to the client. It’s not from me, but it’s asking what is their concerns and thoughts, and what questions do you have. We try to keep everyone up to date and I think clients should expect that.
How long is this going to take? Every case is different. I do want to be clear on that. Some cases may require 3 or 4 medical depositions, doctors do not come to court in Tennessee, but they are immune from subpoena. I can’t make them, so we go to them. I might ask for their deposition and they may say 3 or 4 months from now, and you can imagine if you have a few of those. They may be engineers involved. A case can take 6 months or take a couple years. I would say to ask your lawyer what his plan of action is because only when its ready for trial, many times that’s when they insurance companies start getting more fair.
When there’s that thought that it could take 3 or 4 years for some of these cases, does that scare people off? Well we like to tell the truth to the clients. We like to tell people straight up what’s going to happen. The client may think that their case is worth a lot more than what it actually is, or they think they it should get settle much sooner than it can, but I’m not doing them any favors if I don’t tell them the truth about those things.
We have a client bill of rights at McMahan Law Firm. One of the top things on there is the client has the right to be treated with courtesy and respect. I like to explain that it goes both ways too. I would always make sure to question your lawyers past results and ask anything that you think is important.