1. You are entitled to receive a written contingency fee Retainer Agreement (“fee agreement”) from your attorney. The written contingency fee agreement should not contain any legal jargon, ambiguous terms, or confusing language. If you do not understand the fee agreement, do not sign it.
2. You have the right to negotiate a reasonable contingency fee percentage with your personal injury attorney. The following may be a reasonable fee structure, depending upon the nature of your case:
a. One-quarter (25%) if the matter is resolved without litigation;
b. One-third (33.33%) if the matter is settled after filing a lawsuit but before trial; and
c. Forty percent (40%) if the matter is actually tried.
3. In negotiating a contingency fee agreement, the following factors favor reducing the attorney’s contingency fee percentage:
a. That it is clear that the defendant was at fault for causing your injuries, such as your vehicle was rear ended;
b. The defendant has liability insurance, which will pay for your damages;
c. That the defendant’s insurance carrier has already or is likely to concede that its insured was at fault for causing your injuries;
d. That is beyond dispute that the incident caused your injuries, such as trauma from a vehicle collision;
e. That your personal injury case does not involve any novel or complex issues;
f. That your attorneys will not spend much time or effort working on your case; and/or
g. You do not have a pre-existing relationship with the attorney.
If the attorney is unwilling to negotiate a reasonable fee structure with you, then walk out of his or her office. If you have a meritorious case, you will find another attorney to represent you.
4. You have the right to terminate your personal injury attorney at any time for any reason. If your attorney does not return your messages or provide you with regular updates on the status of your case, you should fire your attorney sooner rather than later.
5. You have the right to review all pleadings filed by your attorney and the opposing party. You have the right to review all correspondence exchanged between your attorney and the opposing party’s attorney.
6. Your attorney must promptly inform you of all material developments, such as the opposing party has conceded negligence.
7. Your attorney must forward to you all settlement offers made by the opposing party. Your attorney cannot make a settlement demand on your behalf without your authority.
8. At a settlement conference or mediation, you always have the right to request that your attorney reduce his or her fees in order to facilitate a settlement. If the opposing party is offering to settle your claim for $60,000 and you want a net recovery of $45,000, you have the right to request that your attorney reduce his or her contingency fee from one-third (33.33%) to one-quarter (25%).
Most attorneys will voluntarily reduce his or her fees to facilitate a settlement. If your attorney is unwilling to reduce his or her fees to facilitate a settlement, you have the right to terminate your attorney.
9. After your case is resolved, you have the right to receive a detailed accounting from your attorney regarding litigation expenses and the disbursement of the settlement or judgment proceeds.
10. You have the right to contest whether your attorney’s contingency fee is reasonable after his or her fee is quantified. An attorney is never entitled to an excessive fee. For example, if your personal injury case settles within several months of the filing of your lawsuit, a one-third (33.33%) contingency fee may no longer be reasonable, because the attorney performed much less work than originally expected.
11. You have the right to request that your attorney attempt to reduce your medical bills and medical liens. If you did not have health insurance, you have the right to contest the reasonableness of your medical bills and/or whether you have a statute of limitations defense. If you had health insurance, your health insurer’s subrogation lien should be reduced by one-third pursuant to Maryland Courts & Judicial Article 11-112.
12. You have the right to report your attorney’s unethical conduct to the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission.