California estate and trust litigation is expensive. A common question from non-clients of law firms like Hackard Law that accept contingency cases is, "How much are you [the attorney] making in this case?" It's a good question and the response must be measured in both protecting the client's attorney-client privilege as well as providing a meaningful response if appropriate within the context of the question.
A generalized response to non-clients is that we cannot go into the details of the confidential attorney-client relationship. If appropriate, we can say that our law firm only gets paid if and when there is a financial recovery in the case. That question aside, what is the context of entering into an attorney-client contingency fee agreement?
Most people that have been wrongfully disinherited in an estate or trust do not have funds available to hire a large corporate firm on an hourly basis, and to pay all costs of the litigation upfront. Of course, if funds are available to hire counsel by the hour, the aggrieved heir or beneficiary will bear all the risk of spending enormous sums of money without a guaranteed return. At times, that is a very prudent decision. As an alternative, the prospective litigant in an appropriate case can contract with a California law firm to bear all or part of those risks.
Estate, trust and elder financial abuse cases may sometimes be resolved within months of filing the lawsuit, while other times cases can drag on for years. This reality is a consideration that the prospective client should consider when there may be the possibility of minimizing costs and risks. The law firm has a similar choice in considering whether to fully or partially take on those costs and risks for a chance at a larger recovery. Sometimes the prospective client has no practical choice if he or she cannot fund the litigation. Conversely, the law firm also may have no practical choice if they want to represent a client who cannot pay hourly attorney's fees and advance litigation costs.
Some contingency fee cases may ultimately have an effective rate of return of a thousand dollars or more per hour while others may just as easily return $30 an hour - or maybe even $0 per hour if the litigation is not successful. Looking at a contingency fee in retrospect ignores the basic economics of the contingency fee contract: the California lawyers basically assume the risks inherent in the case with the hope that the case will ultimately have a reasonable resolution in court, mediation or other pre-trial settlement.
So, just what is a contingency fee in California estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation? A California contingency fee in these cases is the fee charged for the attorney litigator's services only if the lawsuit is successful or is favorably settled out-of-court. Such arrangements usually will apply to any award, verdict, judgment, settlement or compromise.
Contingency fees under California law are negotiable. California Business and Professions Code Section 6147 clearly states that such fees are not set by law but are negotiable between the attorney and client. This must be disclosed in writing to the client. That said, an attorney doesn't have to take a prospective client's case any more than a prospective client must accept the attorney's terms. Each is free to walk away from a negotiation that doesn't meet their respective requirements. The contingent fee is usually calculated as a percentage of the client's recovery.
Hackard Law is a California-based law firm that represents clients in estate, trust and elder financial abuse litigation. Our representation may be based on hourly rates, a hybrid with both a modified hourly and a reduced contingency fee, or a contingency fee with costs advanced by the law firm or by the client. We represent clients in most of California major urban areas including Sacramento, Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda and Los Angeles. Our efforts are to take substantial cases where we think that we can make a significant difference and there is a wrongdoer who can be made financially accountable. If you would like to speak with us about your case, call us at 916 313-3030. We'll be happy to listen to you.