That is a real common question we get from callers and readers. It’s also a really straight forward answer.
The main cost is an attorney fee of 20% of what you get for a settlement or Arbitrator award at trial when the case is over. There are no up front fees or hourly fees. If any work injury attorney asks you for even a penny that is a huge red flag and you should run away from them.
That 20% fee does not increase if you have to switch lawyers. Total lawyer fees can never exceed 20%. So if you fire your lawyer and hire a new one, they don’t each get 20%. Instead they’d have to split it.
The only other costs should be expenses for a case. In a complex case like medical malpractice those expenses can be in the six figures. That’s not how it is for Illinois work comp. Our cases typically have expenses less than $100 and those are for costs in subpoenaing medical records from your providers. Even in cases that go to trial, the expenses are usually limited to a doctor fee for their deposition and other fees like paying for a court reporter. Those total costs would likely be in the mid four figures. In my career I can only recall one case where a settlement contract listed expenses that got in to the five figures. That was a complex case with multiple doctors that needed to testify and it went on for years.
These expenses should all be advanced by the lawyer and when the case is over (or any time you request it) you should get a breakdown of what they have spent on your claim. It is our policy to notify a client whenever we are spending more than what a subpoena costs. It’s just a courtesy as in the end the money will come out of the settlement.
Even for these expenses, a lawyer should front those costs for you. If they don’t or can’t it is a very bad sign as to the health of their practice.
That is it. Unless your lawyer has to spend a night out of town or pay for a flight (and this would be just to take a deposition or investigate an accident scene if you were hurt out of state) there should be no charges for travel costs. I know of one sneaky firm that does bill their clients for gas mileage to go from places like Chicago to Wheaton for a court appearance, but that to me is total nonsense and even the bad firms in town don’t do that as far as I know. That is just a cost of doing business as should be things like mailing letters, making photo copies, etc.
While it’s not the most important question in the world given how low the costs are in most cases, before you hire a lawyer for any type of case, I encourage you to ask the lawyer to explain what they do charge for and what they don’t and get a commitment from them up front.
We are workers' compensation attorneys who help people with Illinois work injuries anywhere in IL via our statewide network of attorneys. Contact us and we will answer your questions or find the right lawyer for your situation.