Although it’s state law in Illinois that no attorney can make you pay them an upfront or hourly fee, it seems that every week I talk to at least one person who has been hesitant to hire an attorney because they don’t think that they can afford it.
The short version of what it costs for an attorney is nothing. We don’t get paid unless you get a settlement or win a trial. Under Illinois law, that fee is capped at 20% of what is recovered in the end and if you are permanently disabled it can be even less.
The long version requires me to clarify some things. Here are answers to some common questions.
- Yes there are expenses associated with most cases and the law firm you hire gets reimbursed for those fees at the end of the case. Unlike most areas of law though, these expenses are usually pretty low as there are no court filing fees. The most common expense is to subpoena your medical records. In most cases that cost is less than $100. The biggest expense would be if we have to pay your doctor to give his deposition. That can run up to $2,000. No expenses should be made without your approval since it’s going to come out of your pocket eventually. If your law firm wants you to pay the expenses you either have a really bad case or a really bad law firm.
- There should never be a fee to consult with a lawyer about your case.
- You don’t have to pay your lawyer if you fire them. Total lawyer fees can never exceed 20% of what is recovered no matter how many firms you hire (although you don’t want to have to switch more than once if at all). The old lawyer can petition the court to get part of that 20%, but that would be at the end of the case. They can’t make you pay them before you switch or give you a bill for their time. That’s illegal!
- In almost every case the 20% comes solely out of the settlement. There are some firms who (in a shady way IMO) try to take 20% of your TTD checks if your benefits are cut off and they get them reinstated with a phone call or trial motion. I don’t think this should happen and in the cases we get involved in, we only take 20% off of past (not future as some firms do) TTD if we have to go to trial to get it or really put in a tremendous effort that settles just short of trial. In almost every case our network touches this doesn’t happen.
- As mentioned above, there is no court filing fee unlike in cases that are actual lawsuits. So it’s a good idea to get a case formally on file with the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission so you don’t have a statute of limitations problem and so you can get closer to the front of the line if your case ever has to go to trial. Older cases get priority over newer cases.
- In some cases when the case is done you get what is called a Medicare set aside which is money paid by the insurance company to cover your future medical expenses. Your lawyer should not be taking from this payment.
- Lawyers are going to always want their money when the case is settled and so should you. A big trend in insurance companies is to convince you to take an annuity which spreads your settlement out over a period of years instead of a lump sum. It makes them money and costs you money. Unless you have creditors beating down your door or a drug habit, an annuity is usually a terrible idea.
- Finally, the most frustrating call I get is from a client whose case has been settled, the lawyer has been paid, but then something pops up like an unpaid medical bill. I can’t believe the number of people who call me and tell me that their lawyer told them the case is closed and they won’t help out. That’s the worst customer service! The lawyer’s fee is to resolve all issues related to the case, even if something pops up after the fact that they didn’t take care of.
Those are the big ones we see. Please get in touch if you have questions about costs or anything else related to workers’ compensation law.