Every attorney representation agreement in an Illinois workers compensation case is the same. It’s a standard contract that says attorney fees are 20% of the recovery they get for you plus reasonable expenses. So if your case settles for $40,000, the attorney will get $8,000 and you will get $32,000 less any expenses in the case.
So the question is what are the fees that the attorney can charge that you have to reimburse them for at the end of the case?
The answer is not much. The most common case expense is subpoenaing medical records which usually cost $20 a subpoena. While you can provide medical records to your attorney (and should), to submit them in to evidence at trial or a deposition, they should be obtained by a subpoena. It’s possible your lawyer will have to subpoena the same doctor more than one time in a case, but in general it’s unusual if the total fees for subpoenas exceeds more than $100.00.
The other really common expense is for deposition fees. If your case is going to trial or might go, your attorney will likely need to take a deposition of your doctor and the IME doctor. These are called evidence depositions which means that their testimony doesn’t happen at trial, but instead a transcript of the deposition is submitted as evidence. Doctors don’t testify for free so it’s not uncommon for your attorney to pay you treating doctor a fee of $1,500 or more for their time. They also have to hire and pay a court reporter to take the transcript and get copies. If it’s the IME doctor who is testifying, the insurance company pays for their fee, but your lawyer will pay for a copy of that transcript.
Some attorneys send their clients to IME doctors to offer a statement that your injuries are work related. We almost never recommend that, but for some firms it’s a common practice and will usually result in a bill of $500 or so that comes out of your pocket in the end.
Some shady firms, in my opinion, charge for photo copies, postage, gas expense and other things that I do not believe should be reimbursable expenses, but instead are just the cost of doing business.
The only other expense that could happen, but is unique would be if your lawyer had to travel out of town to take your doctor’s deposition. That happens when you live in another state but were injured at work in Illinois. So it’s possible then that your lawyer would have airfare, hotel, rental car and food expense and it would be legit for them to charge that to you.
It’s almost unheard of for these expenses to exceed a few thousand dollars and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a case go in to the five figures when it’s work comp only.
Bonus tip. Make sure to ask for an itemized statement for the expenses. Your lawyer is required to tell you what each charge was for and can’t just say “Hey, you owe me $1,000 for money I spent on your case.” So don’t be afraid to ask for this and don’t sign a settlement contract without it.