Part 1 of a 3-part series on personal injury lawyer fees.

Whenever you need a lawyer, an important part of the choice is how and how much the lawyer is to be paid. Much legal work is done by lawyers based on an hourly charge or based on a set fee for a specific project. Divorce, wills and estate planning, and criminal defense are examples of lawyer work that is paid for this way. However, when the need for a lawyer is brought about by a personal injury or wrongful death, most of this legal work is done on a contingent fee agreement.

What is a Contingent Fee?

A contingent fee agreement simply means that the lawyer and law firm are paid only if and when there is a successful recovery of money damages. The amount paid is almost always a percentage of the settlement amount collected. Massachusetts requires that all contingent fee agreements are put in writing and signed by both the client and the lawyer.

In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the most frequent fee percentages charged are 25%, 33 ⅓% and 40% depending on the type of case and difficulty involved.

Some specific types of personal injury cases, such as medical malpractice cases and cases against the United States, have limits on the percentage that can be charged. Notably:

  • In medical malpractice cases, a law limits the percentage to be charged based on a sliding scale of the amount collected. As the recovery increases, the maximum fee percentage that can be charged decreases.
  • In cases for personal injury or wrongful death against the United States, the maximum fee that can be charged is 25%.

Case Expenses and Ability to Pay

Aside from fee percentage, every attorney fee agreement should cover the question of the expenses of the case. Personal injury and wrongful death cases can be very expensive with costs for experts, deposition and court transcripts, court filings, medical records and reports. These costs must be paid as the case progresses and cannot wait until a recovery of money damages.

Even with a contingent fee agreement, lawyers are permitted to ask clients to pay these expenses along the way and some even ask clients to provide advance payment for these costs.

However, firms such as ours generally pay these litigation costs without expecting reimbursement from a client except from the final recovery.

When confronted with a serious personal injury or wrongful death, most families would be hard pressed to find extra funds to pay the cost of bringing a case. We feel that proper preparation of a case, such as hiring the right expert or taking a deposition, should not depend on our client’s ability to pay.

Now read
Part 2: Changing Lawyers and Fee Splitting

If you or a family member have questions regarding a contingent fee case, our partners are happy to consult with you. Call us at 617 542-1000 or e-mail us at