Fees And Expenses: Order Counts

If you are hoping to work with a trial attorney on a contingent basis, where the attorney gets his or her fees from any awards you might get from the case, pay attention to how the fees and expenses are charged. When you go to court, you have to pay not only attorney fees, but court costs as well, or expenses. The order in which these are applied to your case can mean pocketing a substantial difference in final money.

Getting More of Your Money

You generally have two choices when it comes to paying court expenses: pay them first or pay them last. Paying them first, or out of the award before the attorney's fees apply, means that the attorney's contingency percentage will be based on a smaller amount of money, and the fee will be smaller.

If you pay them last, or after the attorney's percentage applies, you're likely to be left with a smaller payout after the trial is done. This is because the contingency fee would have been based on a larger amount and thus would have been larger itself. Remember, the contingency fee is usually a percent of the award and not a fixed amount.

About fixed fees: Chances are you will not be able to negotiate a fixed fee for a long or involved trial that may end up with a huge payout. Fixed fees are often reserved for smaller, non-trial issues that tend to take the same amount of time and effort each time the attorney handles them. You can try to ask about fixed fees, but don't be surprised if percents are the only way the attorney will calculate his or her fees. Remember to spell out, in writing, how the fees and expenses will be ordered.


Another type of fee to consider -- and add to the written agreement about deduction order -- is a lien. This will most often take the form of a medical lien where you owe money. Liens do not necessarily mean you were involved in previous cases; sometimes liens apply as a form of agreement for treatment ahead of payment, with the promise of payment later on. As with court expenses, if the liens are paid before the contingency fee is applied, you could end up with a bigger payout than you would if the liens were paid after the contingency fee was applied.

All of this is something you need to discuss with the attorney before you agree to work with him or her. Be sure everything is in writing and that you understand all of it before you begin building your case. If you're still looking for an attorney, consider a law office like Swartz & Swartz P.C.