A lawyer has charged a monthly fee of a sixty year-old woman for the past four years. She was awarded $101 per month in a disability case. The lawyer now takes a large percentage of the payout. Another case in the same state, which was published in the newspaper, tells of a disabled miner who has been making monthly payments to his attorney for the past decade! The miner receives a monthly pension of $134, and his lawyer has racked up on the fees.
These cases clearly show how the poor can't afford legal fees. They certainly are not unusual. One claimant, whose husband was bedridden with cancer, was also on welfare. The real problem of legal fees isn't only one that applies to the poor. The middle class suffer from high legal services bills.
One author has said that the middle class is a lawyer's feeding zone now. They have some money and property, but aren't well represented in government. It is interesting to note that this class also gives us the most lawyers, so it would be interesting to psychoanalzye the situation, according to the author.
Generally, lawyers fees are charged by the hour. One lawyer who concentrates on compensation cases argues that doctors and plumbers are paid on an hourly basis, so why shouldn't attorneys be paid hourly? However, workmen's compensation awards are typically lifetime payments, so is it fair for attorneys to take a part of that payment every month as legal services? Middle class members who use lawyers to get divorced, process a will, file a personal injury suit or invest in real estate may make a lifetime of payments to their lawyer.
Widows and orphans have been robbed of their monies the lawyers were entrusted to protect. Charging far more money than necessary, some lawyers don't actually steal the money. They get it through their fees. During a five year period of time, one partnership stole approximately 60 per cent of an estate worth six figures, and they called it "fees for services". The case was from the estate of a man who was ruled unable to tend to his own affairs. This matter had a happy ending, with the partners being ordered to repay the moneys taken from the estate. One lawyer, not widely accepted by his peers, sued the other lawyers to get the money back. Other lawyers would have nothing to do with it.
The media essentially contributes and encourages these improper and unethical dealings by only superficially treating the court system and the information as news sources. The media won't report the legal fees garnered by guardians and lawyers. This information is readily available from the court. The local bar associations do their best to maintain an image, as well. These associations vehemently oppose any disclosure of information that is gathered between an attorney and his client. They do not hesitate to slap down any negative attitude toward the legal profession, should it be called out in the media.
Most of the time the lawyers will only accept the percentage arrangement, even though their fees are based on hours spend on the case. The bar association supports this arrangement, as well. This is known as a contingent fee. The lawyer will then get a percentage of the award, should the case be won. This contingency amount can be anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent in personal injury and other tort cases.
Just like poker, Americans invented the contingent fee. England, and most of Europe for that matter, won't allow lawyers to collect contingency fees. First used in the United States in 1848, contingency fees were designed to helped injured workers. These workers were unable to pay the lawyers fees, so the contingent fee would assure they were paid for their services.
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