Workers’ compensation attorneys charge a contingency fee, which means that they only get paid if they’re successful in getting you a settlement or a recovery after trial. This means that you don’t have to pay an attorney out of pocket. It also means that pretty much everyone can afford to hire an attorney to fight for benefits or negotiate a good settlement.

The bottom line is that Illinois law limits workers’ compensation attorney fees to 20%. This is 20% of what your attorney is able to get at the end of your case. It’s significantly less than the fee earned by attorneys in typical personal injury cases, which are usually around 33% of the final award or settlement.

All of your attorney’s hours are included in this fee, so there is no hourly rate. The fee should be paid out of the end settlement or recovery in your case. Most work injury attorneys – and all of the ones we recommend – do not take a fee from the regular checks you get for lost wages or from the money you get for medical bills. You should keep the full amount of these benefits.

The only time when a fee should be taken from benefits is when your attorney has to fight for unpaid benefits by requesting a hearing, gathering evidence and arguing your case in front of an arbitrator. If you win and receive a lump sum for past benefits that you are owed, your attorney’s fee will come from that amount. If you lose, there is no fee.

Not included in your attorney’s fee are the costs of your case. For example, your attorney will have to pay your doctor for his time in giving a deposition. In our opinion, clients should not have to pay for small things like stamps, copies and other office expenses. Either way, your attorney should cover all costs until the end of the case.

Sometimes, people have to switch attorneys during their claim, after they have signed a fee agreement with the first attorney. It’s important to know that this will not increase the amount you have to pay in attorney’s fees. The past and current attorneys will share the fee, and it’s up to them to figure out who gets what. It won’t cost you more than 20%.

Most workers’ compensation cases settle. Insurance companies are known to treat workers differently if they are not represented by an attorney, offering very low amounts or avoiding negotiations altogether. In our experience, having a good attorney means a higher settlement amount.

Your attorney should always be upfront and honest with you about costs and fees associated with your case. If you don’t understand how fees are calculated, ask. If you are wondering about the costs of your case, you can ask any time, not just at the end. 

By Michael Helfand