Contingent Fee

Contingent Fee in the United States

Charges by an attorney for legal services that are dependent on a successful outcome in a civil case. Under the contingent or contingency fee approach, an attorney handles a case involving a money claim without prepayment for services by the client. If the action is successful, the attorney receives a percentage of the recovered money as the fee for services rendered. A Contingent Fee (Civil Process) of one-third of the recovered amount is typical. If, on the other hand, the client does not recover any money through the legal action, the attorney on Contingent Fee (Civil Process) will receive no fee. Use of a Contingent Fee (Civil Process) does not preclude an attorney from charging a fixed fee as well. It is unethical for attorneys to represent criminal defendants on a Contingent Fee (Civil Process) basis.

See Also

Pro Bono Publico (Civil Process), 242.

Analysis and Relevance

The Contingent Fee is a device whereby people may be able to avail themselves of legal representation. Litigation is expensive, and few plaintiffs could sustain such costs in advance. While the Contingent Fee approach is not possible for all kinds of legal problems, it is the method used in upwards of 70 percent of cases that assert money claims. Without the Contingent Fee system, many people would be unable to pursue relief in personal injury or negligence cases. At the same time, some are critical of the Contingent Fee approach. The principal concern is that the hope or expectation of large judgments prompts attorneys to litigate in cases that might be settled out of court. As a consequence, some states have limited the amount that can be gained in Contingent Fees for certain kinds of cases.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Contingent Fee from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Practical Information

Note: Some of this information was last updated in 1982

A charge for services to a client based on an agreement that the fee will be dependent on the lawyer’s successful handling of the case. Contingent fees are customary in personal injury cases, especially if the client is unable to pay for the lawyer’s time except out of the damages he might recover. The lawyer usually agrees to take a case for a client for a percentage of the amount recovered.

(Revised by Ann De Vries)

What is Contingent Fee?

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Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Contingent Fee. This part provides references, in relation to Contingent Fee, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Contingent Fee by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Contingent Fee and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Contingent Fee or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Contingent Fee and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Contingent Fee. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Contingent Fee should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Contingent Fee when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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