How much should I pay my lawyer to settle a wrongful death claim?
July 1, 2008 11:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to hire an attorney to settle a wrongful death claim in the state of Ohio, USA. I hope to reach a settlement rather than going to court. What percentage of my settlement should the attorney get?

A law firm offered to represent me for either 20% of whatever is gained by reaching a settlement, or 35% of whatever is awarded by a jury if the case goes to trial. Does this sound reasonable? Should I try to negotiate a lower percentage in either case, and if so, what is the lowest percentage I might reasonably expect them to accept?

We've already had a free consultation with the lawyers who will be involved. If I wish to negotiate the contract further, what protocol should I follow - ask for another meeting (and more of their time), call them up or send an email?

Anything else I should know before signing up with a law firm? The claim is against an estate, so a personal injury lawyer and an estate lawyer will both be involved. Their contract seems fairly straightforward and includes their expenses plus the percentage.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total)
As a data point, when anyone I know has been involved in a personal injury case, the standard was 30-33% if the claim was settled, or 40-45% if it went to court. I (and my friends in question) live in Ohio.
posted by ferociouskitty at 11:53 AM on July 1, 2008

Well if you're interested in a settlement, and the other side is amenable, you might also consider a good mediator, perhaps at the American Association of Arbitration. Their point is to generally to get parties to a settlement, and they are quite cheap compared to the costs of going to trial.
posted by shivohum at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2008

This seems like a reasonable percentage to me. I'm related to an excellent personal injury attorney in Columbus, Ohio and I'm pretty sure his rates are similar.
posted by thejanna at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2008

ferocious kitty is right: the rule of thumb is 1/3 if the lawyer settles it, 1/2 if they take it to court and try it.
posted by Carsey at 1:08 PM on July 1, 2008

From experience, I understand that the typical contingency fee for personal injury cases is between 35% and 45%, so the 20% to 35% seems like a good deal. Actually, from experience, lawyers asking for as low as 20% to 35% seems relatively uncommon. Then again, my experience is in California, so Ohio could be very different.

If you want to negotiate with your attorneys further, I would typically suggest doing it over the phone, unless your lawyers are really responsive to emails, in which case you can do it that way as well. Lawyers on contingency don't usually appreciate a lot of unnecessary face-to-face with their clients, but your lawyers may be different.

Besides this, the only recommendations I have regarding choosing an attorney is to do some research, i.e. see what experience they have in handling similar cases. If you have the means, try to find out what reputation they have. Also, try make sure that the attorney does not have any unnecessary violations on their record, and if so, make sure they can explain what is up with the violations.

The only other thing you should do is ensure that expectations on both sides are clear at the outset of signing up with the attorney. You will want to be reasonably updated, and not have to do anything last-minute if it can be helped; your attorneys will not want you to become over-involved in the case, or to hound them. Protocol should be set up regarding how and when communications should take place.

Also, do not go to the American Arbitration Association unless your attorney recommends it; it is not always a good option. Your attorney should have a list of effective mediators to facilitate settlement, if necessary.

Good luck.

Disclaimer: IANYL
posted by jabberjaw at 1:09 PM on July 1, 2008

The best point of comparison would be to talk to other attorneys in your area.

20% is only a good deal if there aren't attorneys out there willing to do it for less.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:29 PM on July 1, 2008

I want to point out that at a certain point, the contingency fee can be too low. The danger in that is when the contingency is too low, some lawyers will be less motivated to work for you. I'm not saying it's right; what I'm saying is that that it does happen.

A lot of work should go into your case - especially since you are suing an estate, and are dealing with probate in addition to regular litigation.

What too low is depends a lot on the lawyers in your area.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2008

Figure out what the contingency fee includes - does it include all their postage, copying, and other office fees, or is that extra? Be very clear on this point.

My experience as a lawyer and having worked at a PI firm while in law school is that 33% is standard for pretrial settlement, 45% is standard for trial.
posted by MeetMegan at 3:26 PM on July 1, 2008

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