Most California consumers are unaware of the fact that the contingency fee between the lawyer and client in most personal injury and wrongful death cases is negotiable.
You see, California Business and Professions Code section 6147, clearly states that a contingency fee is voidable by the client absent a written statement in the retainer disclosing to the client that the fee is not set by law but is negotiable between client and attorney. All of our firm’s contingency fee retainer agreements clearly disclose this information.
If the lawyer fails to comply with her responsibilities under the code, then the contingency fee agreement can be voided or cancelled by the client. It should be noted that if this happens and, if the lawyer provides value to the client, then the lawyer is entitled to a “reasonable” fee. In some cases, this may be substantially less than the amount originally asked for in the written contingency fee agreement.
I share this with you so that you, your family members and friends are all informed consumers. The fact of the matter is that almost every term in a contingency fee agreement is negotiable. While some clauses (such as attorney contingency fees) are mandatory, others are optional and can and should be discussed with any lawyer you are thinking about hiring.
Does this mean that the lawyer you are meeting with is required to accept your proposed negotiated fee? No it doesn’t. Truth be told, most well respected and experienced lawyers know the amount of time and effort it’s going to take to get the job done and the fee proposed in their retainer agreement reflects what they feel is fair and equitable.
But here’s the deal. How do you know you’re sitting across the desk from such a lawyer? How do you know she will be unwilling to reduce her fee in exchange for you retaining her firm?
I’ve always liked this law and welcome this conversation with all new clients. I do however find it disheartening that many lawyers fail to share this nice little tidbit of information with their clients. Simply put, failing to do so misleads the client and is the wrong way to start a new professional relationship. Furthermore, it violates California law.