When you're selecting an attorney to represent you, your financial budget is a major consideration. Because legal claims often center around obtaining compensation for losses, whether for personal injuries or business losses, it is not unusual for people seeking an attorney to be in dire financial straits.
The legal community has established ways to assist clients who are facing legal and financial challenges. Pro bono and contingency agreements are two of the most common. Neither type of representation requires upfront payment for legal services, so they can be easily confused. You should therefore understand the difference between pro bono vs contingency lawyers when choosing the right attorney for your needs.
What Is a Pro Bono Agreement?
A pro bono representation agreement is a contract between a client and a pro bono attorney in which the lawyer provides legal services at no cost to the client. Such services may be offered by law firms, individual attorneys, or even law schools.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, the court may award payment for pro bono attorney fees. While pro bono attorneys don't require payment for their legal services, they may ask clients to pay for the court costs and filing fees associated with the case.
What’s Pro Bono?
Pro bono refers to the Latin term pro bon publico, which translates to “for the public good.” The term has been shortened in legal contexts to pro bono.
What Is a Contingency Fee Agreement?
A contingency fee arrangement allows a client to retain an attorney for no upfront cost. Instead of an advance retainer fee or hourly rates, payment for the attorney’s services is contingent upon winning the case. If they do not win, the contingency fee lawyer does not receive payment. If they do win, the attorney keeps an amount of the final settlement consistent with the contingent fee arrangement.
Contingency fee agreements are common for personal injury claims, such as medical malpractice, motor vehicle collisions, and slip-and-fall accidents. Attorneys who specialize in business litigation may also take claims on a full or partial contingency basis. Contingency fee percentages vary by law firm, but most are around one-third of the total final award.
Key Considerations When Choosing Between a Pro Bono vs Contingency Lawyer
Pro bono and contingency attorneys each offer unique advantages, depending on your legal needs. When deciding on the right attorney for your case, consider the following factors.
Cost of Representation
If you're choosing between a pro bono lawyer and representation on a contingency basis, consider the cost of each. Pro bono attorneys may determine whether a client qualifies for pro bono representation based on their financial situation. Discuss whether you qualify for free legal representation and whether you'll be expected to pay any costs or filing fees.
The percentage allotted to the attorney for a contingency arrangement can differ between law firms, so don't hesitate to ask for details and compare costs with other firms. You should have a thorough understanding of the following details before signing a contingency agreement:
- How the firm calculates the contingency fee
- What legal services, costs, and fees are not covered by the contingency fee
- Whether you'll pay certain fees, costs, and expenses during the case
- What court costs and fees you may owe if you lose the case
- How the costs for representation are calculated if you switch attorneys
- How the costs and contingency agreement work if you file an appeal
- Whether the attorney calculates the contingency fee percentage before or after other expenses are deducted from the final settlement or award
Legal firms tend to specialize, so you'll benefit from choosing an attorney who has expertise in the area of law pertaining to your case. For example, you may find pro bono personal injury attorneys who handle car accident cases.
If your case involves complex business matters, a car accident lawyer isn't going to help you win your case. You'll benefit from working instead with a business litigation attorney on a contingency fee basis. Although you'll pay a portion of your settlement toward legal assistance at the conclusion of your case, you may be more likely to achieve a desirable outcome with an attorney who has relevant legal experience.
Type of Damages
The damages you can pursue in a personal injury case or other civil litigation are the same whether you have a pro bono or contingency lawyer. However, compensatory damages in a civil claim do differ widely depending on the type of case and applicable laws.
Your attorney may work with the insurance company to negotiate a settlement out of court, but they should also be prepared to take your case to trial.
Complex cases that involve multiple responsible parties, such as medical malpractice or product liability claims, may not settle quickly. Therefore, it's wise to work with an attorney who is comfortable pursuing claims both at the negotiating table and in the courtroom.
Although pro bono lawyers don't charge for services, you may have to pay the court costs and filing fees out of pocket. Be sure to ask about these potential extra costs when selecting an attorney.
A contingency fee includes all attorney fees, court costs, and filing fees, which means you pay none of these costs upfront. If your contingency lawyer loses the case, you may still be liable for certain court costs.
Other Distinct Factors
Attorneys often consider their chances of winning the case before taking a case on contingency. Though no outcome is guaranteed, a lawyer will rarely accept a contingency fee agreement unless they believe they can recover a sufficient award to cover the full costs of pursuing the claim.
Because the attorney has a direct financial interest in the success of your claim, they're more likely to go above and beyond the normal call of duty to achieve a desirable outcome.
Choose the Right Lawyer for Your Case
Whether they offer pro bono legal assistance or legal services on contingency, most attorneys offer a free initial legal consultation. Don't let your worries about legal fees prevent you from taking advantage of a free case review. Civil cases are often subject to time limitations, so it's in your best interest to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Contact Dunn Sheehan today to arrange a free consultation and learn more about contingency fee vs pro bono representation. One of our skilled personal injury lawyers can examine your case details and provide an honest assessment of your claim. If we decide to work with you, we can handle your case on a pure contingency, partial contingency, or fixed-fee basis.