Posted in Personal Injury on May 9, 2022
In auto accident and personal injury cases occurring in Montana, most Montana injury lawyers will charge a “contingency fee” instead of charging by the hour. The “contingency fee” is a percentage of the total money the lawyer is able to recover on behalf of the client. If the lawyer recovers nothing, then the client owes the lawyer nothing). This is a win-win for the client because the client does not need to come out of pocket to pay monthly legal bills when, very likely, medical bills are stacking up and the client might not even be able to work.
Beware, however, not all Billings personal injury lawyers’ contingency fees are the same. Commonly, injury lawyers have various “escalating fee clauses” or “fee hike clauses” buried in their contracts. For instance, the fee may be 33% when the lawyer signs a client up, but if the personal injury lawyer files a lawsuit on your behalf, or takes your case to trial, or files an appeal, the fee goes up- sometimes as high as 50% of a client’s total recovery.
At Heenan & Cook, we don’t put escalating clauses in our contingency fee agreements. We call it the “No Fee Hike Guarantee.” Why? Because we believe a deal is a deal and shifting fee agreements put an unnecessary wedge between the interests of the lawyers and their clients. Remember, the contingency fee agreement should be a win-win for the injury victim. Clients should not make case settlement decisions based upon concerns that fees will go up, and lawyers should only make case decisions for the best interests of their clients and the case.
Now, here are real world examples of how escalating or fee hike clauses can negatively impact clients. Typically, when Montana injury firms use an escalation clause, one of the first “fee hikes” is when a case, or lawsuit, is filed in Court on behalf of the client. Insurance adjusters handling settlement negotiations capitalize on injury lawyers having escalation clauses to devalue the incentive to fight for a fair settlement value. How this works is the ”money in your pocket” argument clients with fee hike lawyers usually hear. It goes like this, “the Insurance Company has offered $90,000, if you settle now, you will put $60,000.00 ‘in your pocket,’ BUT if we have to file suit the fee goes up to 40% and we would need to get $100,000.00 to put the same money ‘in your pocket’.”
Knowing this, an insurance adjuster working on a $100,000 fair settlement value claim routinely makes early, lowball settlement offers to see which lawyers are willing to put in the work without fee hikes to their clients. At Heenan & Cook, we will never encourage a client to settle because of an escalating fee because we promise, always, a “No Fee Hike Guarantee.”
The ”No Fee Hike Guarantee” also protects clients from factoring in fee hikes into decisions whether to go to trial, if a trial becomes necessary. Typically, there is a court-ordered mediation before trial. The mediator, an experienced lawyer or judge, goes back and forth between the rooms and tries to strike a compromise to avoid trial. If the client is working with a lawyer who escalates his fee if a case goes to trial, the mediator may use this as leverage to get the client to accept less than fair value for the claim, saying something like “even if you get more money from a jury at trial, you will pocket less because your lawyer’s rate will go up.” Again, at every stage, Heenan & Cook’s “No Fee Hike Guarantee” allows clients to make the best decision for themselves and their case without regard to escalating attorney fees.
At Heenan & Cook Injury Lawyers, we pursue the full value of the claim for our clients without regard to fee hikes clauses. Insurance adjusters, opposing counsel, and mediators know this. And, it is what helps maximize value for our clients.
So, when considering who to hire for a Montana accident or personal injury claim, pay close attention to “fee hikes” and “escalation clauses.” With Heenan & Cook’s “No Fee Hike Guarantee” we keep the focus on “what’s my case worth?” instead of “how much more do I owe the attorney?” That is what clients deserve.