Most attorneys we know, and all of the attorneys we recommend, do not charge a consultation fee. You should be able to meet with a work injury attorney, discuss your injury and ask questions without paying anything. If an attorney tells you that they charge for an initial consultation, you might want to find someone else.

Not only are free consultations fairly common, but in our opinion it’s the right thing to do for a potential client. It doesn’t seem right to charge a fee to tell someone they don’t have a case. And as the client, you should be able to get some initial answers without charge. And you shouldn’t have to pay in order to find out whether you even like that particular attorney enough to hire them.

Workers’ compensation attorneys charge a contingency fee on the cases they take on. This means that they only earn a fee if and when they win the case for you. In Illinois workers’ compensation, a fee is earned if your attorney gets you benefits that you’ve been denied or get you a settlement at the end of your case.

Benefits in workers’ compensation include payment for a portion of your lost wages (2/3 of your average weekly wage) if you are unable to work while you recover. You also get coverage of 100% of your medical bills. If you get these benefits without a fight, your attorney should not take any portion. If they have to prepare for and argue your case at trial or a hearing, they earn a fee on what you are awarded. If they settle your case for you, or get you a lump sum at trial, they earn a fee on that.

The main point is that there should be no upfront fees or costs to you. Nothing out-of-pocket. No consultation fee, no fee for getting your medical records, no charge for their office expenses. For the fee earned at the end of a case, Illinois law limits the amount a workers’ compensation attorney can charge. The law says that an attorney can only earn 20% of the amount they are able to “win” for you.

If you have questions about your fee, ask your attorney. They should not avoid the question or be vague about what you have to pay. And finally, always get a fee agreement in writing at the start of your case.

By Michael Helfand