Most workers' comp attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning they only charge clients a percentage of any monetary benefits they win (between 15 to 25 percent of the award). So workers who don't have a lot of money can hire lawyers to represent them in their cases. However, there are some cases an attorney won't take a case on a contingency basis, and workers may have to go it alone because they can't afford the legal fees. Here's when this might occur and information about the options available to you.
Reasons an Attorney May Not Take the Case
As noted previously, workers' comp attorney make their money by charging clients a percentage of their monetary awards, so the primary reason a lawyer may decline a case is if it will result in little to no money. This typically happens in cases where an employee will only receive non-cash benefits, such as the payment of current and future medical care.
However, even in cases where there is a cash payout, the amount the employee receives may not be enough to cover the attorney's costs. For instance, if you'll only receive $5,000, the lawyer's cut would be between $750 and $1,250 for her efforts. Lawyers can charge up to $400 per hour for their services, so that amount may be insufficient if the attorney has to spend more than a few hours working the case.
Getting Cheap or Free Legal Help
Just because you can't afford to hire a private attorney doesn't mean there's no help available. One option is to contact your local legal aid organization. These agencies sometimes have attorneys who handle workers' comp cases pro bono or charge clients on a sliding scale based on income. Even if legal aid doesn't have any one on staff that can help, the agency may offer clinics where you can talk to someone who can provide advice even though the person may not be able to represent you.
If there is a college or university in your town, contact the law school to see if they offer legal clinics. In an effort to provide students with real-world experience, law schools will have students help people in the community with their legal woes. The students are supervised by experienced and licensed attorneys, so this is a good way to get assistance with your claim. Be aware, though, students can't legally represent you, but you may get enough information to manage your claim on your own.
Sometimes a private attorney will take a case pro bono or charge a deeply discounted rate. It doesn't hurt to contact a few to see if this is a possibility. For more information about getting legal help when your broke or assistance with your workers' comp claim, contact a local lawyer.