The core principle of our legal system is that all people, no matter their station in life, can bring their disputes to be heard in a court of law. That’s in theory, in practice, however, justice is not always so available to those with limited means. However, one innovation has somewhat evened the playing field—the contingent fee agreement.
Leveling the playing field
The pursuit of justice can be expensive, with litigation costs and attorney fees piling up quickly. The average billing rate in 2018 for Pennsylvania attorneys was $262 per hour, according to Clio, a Canadian research firm tracking legal industry metrics. Corporations and insurance companies often have unlimited resources at their disposal during litigation, putting the average person at a great disadvantage.
Under a contingent fee agreement, a client in a civil matter does not need to pay an attorney unless the case is successful. Often, attorneys will also front all litigation costs. Thus, the client does not have to pay anything out of their pocket. Thus, all fees and costs are paid out of the recovery.
‘Not going to get bullied’
This arrangement has greatly expanded access to the justice system and allowed those with modest means obtain the justice they deserve. It’s the only way an injured worker can go up against a big insurance company and feel comfortable and confident. You’re not going to get bullied. It’s a great equalizer.
The contingent fee has allowed ordinary people to sue large corporations and influential entities and receive monetary compensation. In addition, the contingent fee has given credence to the idea all should be held accountable for their actions and no one is above the law.
In addition, the contingent fee ensures that a lawyer’s interests are fundamentally linked to those of the client. It incentivizes lawyers to provide the best quality service to clients because if they fail, they will not get paid.
The contingent fee agreement also discourages the filing of frivolous matters. It is highly unlikely that an attorney on a contingent fee agreement will take on a case that lacks merit because doing so would mean investing thousands of dollars on a case with no hope of recovery.
Contingent fees restore some fairness to the system. A powerful corporation with its economic clout and high-priced attorneys cannot simply steamroll over a litigant of modest means. The average person can still get a fair shake by hiring a worthy champion to take up their cause.
Samuel H. Pond is the managing partner at Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano, the largest workers’ compensation firm in Pennsylvania. For more than 30 years, he has been representing workers injured on the job. He is also the host of the Legal Eagles radio show, which aims to educate the public on the law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.