Do you believe your employer discriminated against you because of your disability? If you were fired because of a disability, denied a reasonable accommodation for your disability, or harassed at work because of your disability, you should talk to an experienced employment attorney to find out if you have legal recourse against your employer. But before you start shopping for a lawyer, you should know how lawyers charge for their services in disability discrimination cases.
Once you have come up with a list of names of potential lawyers (learn more on how to find and hire a discrimination lawyer), you'll want to set up an initial appointment with the most promising candidates. When you call to make the appointment, ask how much the lawyer charges for this consultation. Some lawyers don't charge at all for an introductory meeting. Other lawyers charge a flat fee (for example, $200) for the meeting or charge an hourly rate, whether their usual rate or a reduced fee. Still other lawyers might give you some free time (such as an hour), and then charge for their time after that. Find out ahead of time what you will have to pay, so you won't be surprised.
When you find a lawyer you like, ask about fees. Typically, before you formally hire an attorney, you will have to sign a contract (called a retainer agreement) that sets out the terms of your arrangement, including fees. When representing employees in disability discrimination cases, the most common fee arrangements are hourly fees and contingency fees.
In an hourly fee arrangement, you pay the attorney a set amount for each hour of work the attorney does. Because attorney fees can run to hundreds of dollars an hour, this arrangement makes sense if you need only a limited amount of legal work for the attorney. For example, if your employer has offered you a severance package, and you want a lawyer to look it over and let you know whether it's fair, you would likely pay by the hour. Or, if you want an attorney to review your situation and write a demand letter to your employer to negotiate a settlement, an hourly fee might make sense. Once you get beyond very limited amounts of time, however, a contingency fee arrangement usually is more cost-effective.
In a contingency fee set-up, your lawyer gets paid only if you win, and only out of what you get from your employer. For example, a contingency fee deal might state that your lawyer gets one-third of whatever money you win from your employer. Some lawyers charge a higher percentage if they have to take your case to trial, which is very time-consuming. For instance, your fee arrangement might state that your lawyer gets 33% of your award up until 30 days before trial, at which point the percentage increases to 40%.
The benefit of a contingency fee arrangement is that you don't have to come up with thousands of dollars up front to pay your lawyer, at a time when your job may be precarious or you may be unemployed. It also gives your lawyer a strong incentive to get you the highest damages award possible. The drawback, of course, is that you will have to hand over a significant chunk of your winnings if your lawyer is successful.
Attorney fee arrangements can be very complex. Although the basics—hourly fees or contingency fee percentage— aren't hard to understand, there are a number of details you'll need to nail down with your lawyer. For example:
No matter what fee agreement you reach, it should be in writing, and signed by you and your attorney. When lawyers and clients have disputes with each other, they are most often about fees. To avoid problems down the road, make sure you understand the fee arrangement and get it in writing.