Recently, contingency fee agreements in Ontario for personal injury cases have come under attack. Seeing this sort of news is very disappointing and disheartening. A recent decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal on this issue was highlighted in the news. Here is a link to a quick article. I cannot comment on what the former lawyer did in that case, but it’s certainly does not appear to be good for the legal profession.
A contingency fee agreement is a fancy legal term for an agreement between an client (injured accident victim) and a lawyer/law firm whereby the law firm’s legal fees are based entirely on the success of the case. If the lawyer works many many years, and invests many many hours on a case, but the lawyer isn’t able to recover any money on the case, then the lawyer gets ZERO. But, if the lawyer is successful in winning/resolving the case for fair compensation, then the lawyer gets paid their legal fees based on a percentage of the recovery in the case. If there is no money at stake in a case, then a contingency fee cannot work. Contingency fee agreements don’t only exist in personal injury cases. Other lawyers in different practice areas use them as well.Contingency fees in the context of criminal cases are rare, if not unheard of. I have never heard of a criminal lawyer take a case on the basis that s/he will only get paid if s/he wins on behalf of their client. I suppose it can happen, but what that fee will be for winning would have to be worked out at the outset of the case.
In a contingency fee relationship, the client and the lawyer form a team. I like that. The more money the lawyer recovers on behalf of the client, the more money the lawyer can recover in legal fees. And vice versa, if the lawyer recovers ZERO, then the lawyer gets ZERO. This sort of arrangement works for a variety of reasons.
I would like to illustrate one of the biggest reasons by sharing a story with you.
When I was in University, I worked for Sears Canada. I worked in the hardware and paint departments. This was an odd fit, because I’m neither a handy person nor a painter. But, I must admit that I learned a lot; both about hardware and painting. The money I earned from Sears went towards my University education. I paid for school by working at Sears. For this reason alone, I appreciated that Sears kept me gainfully employed throughout my College years so that I could make ends meet.
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