There are a lot of factors that go into the final answer to this question, but it’s important to understand that at least at the outset of the case, you pay nothing. As outlined by the California Bar Association, attorneys fees for employment litigation are arranged on a contingency fee basis.
As a Los Angeles employment lawyer can explain, a contingency fee arrangement stems from a contractual agreement wherein the client agrees to pay the attorney a percentage of the proceeds from the case – if any.
You may have heard the phrase, “You pay nothing unless we win.” That refers to a contingency fee arrangement. The “nothing” referred to there is with regard to attorney’s fees. Depending on the circumstances, plaintiffs may still be responsible for certain things like witness fees, court fees, payments for copies, and some other expenses, regardless of the case outcome, but attorney’s fees are where the bulk of a plaintiff’s costs would be in a civil case. Waiving those fees in the event the case is not won serves on two fronts: It prevents attorneys from taking up frivolous (unlikely to win) claims, and it evens the accessibility playing field when it comes to taking strong claims to court.
Think about it: If a former fast food employee filing a wage theft claim had to pay the same upfront legal fees that the corporate defendant is likely paying, they’d never get their foot past the front door of the courthouse. Contingency fee arrangements provide strong incentives for plaintiff attorneys to level with prospective clients about the veracity and value of their potential case. Such arrangements also allow those less economically advantaged to have the same opportunity to seek justice as anyone else.
Contingency fee arrangements are not “free,” but employment lawyers are ethically and legally barred from charging excessive, unreasonable fees for their services under any circumstances. Being honest and upfront with your lawyer is to your advantage here, as it will help your attorney determine precisely what is reasonable given the unique facts of the case and potential challenges that may need to be overcome.
How Does a Contingency Fee Arrangement Work?
Contingency fee arrangements between lawyers and clients are only allowed with certain types of cases. You’ll see them most often in civil litigation, specifically personal injury, wrongful death, and employment law.
You (the client) agree that if you win your case – through settlement or jury verdict – that a portion of your recovery will go to your attorney. The exact portion will be worked out well in advance, at the start of your relationship. The exact percentage will depend on things like the complexity of the case and the experience/track record of success of your lawyer. In general, though, it’s probably going to be somewhere between 30 and 45 percent.
For example, let’s say your Los Angeles employment lawyer agrees to a contingency fee arrangement of 30 percent. Your case ultimately settles for $50,000. Let’s assume the court cost and witness fees in the case were about $5,000. Your lawyer will first deduct that $5,000 in costs from the gross amount. That leaves a net judgment of $45,000. Your attorney will then calculate their 30 percent from that net amount, working out in this scenario to $13,500. In this case, the client would receive $31,500. If you lose the case, you *might* still be on the hook for some or all of that $5,000, but you will not have to pay any attorney’s fees.
If you have questions about how the contingency fee arrangement is going to work and how much your case may be worth, our Los Angeles employment law team offers free initial consultations.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
What to Expect Regarding Fees and Billing, The State Bar of California