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Looking for an attorney in Illinois that will take a case where they receive a percentage of a recovery is a common request. This is called working on a contingency basis. We just got a call from someone looking for a Chicago contingency law firm so I thought I’d write about how to get one.

To get an attorney to take on your case where they don’t get paid until you do, they need some reasonable belief that there will be money recovered when the case is done. As a result, the typical contingency base is a personal injury claim like a car accident, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, slip and fall, etc. We also know many attorneys that will take a case on a percentage when you are going for unpaid wages, overtime benefits, sales commissions, social security disability benefits, legal malpractice (when there is a provable financial harm), class action lawsuits and collection matters.

For cases like divorce or criminal defense, it’s illegal for the attorney to work on a percentage. In criminal cases of course there is no recovery. Same would be true if you are the defendant in a civil law suit. If you aren’t going to be winning anything, you’ll have to pay for help. For some this makes it very challenging to find representation.

In some commercial litigation lawsuits, attorneys will work for a percentage if two things can be shown. 1. That the ultimate payoff looks to be worth justifying the risk of working all the time it will take. 2. That there is no counter-claim. In other words, if you are suing someone and they are suing you, a lawyer can’t defend you a contingency basis. And even if they do it for free, the fear they will have is that each side will say to the other that if “you drop your claim, I’ll drop mine.” That can work out great for the client and that should be the goal. But if the attorney knows he/she might not get compensated they won’t touch it in the first place.

Will contests are similar. Typically those are handled via an hourly fee, but if there is a valid will challenge, then you might not have to pay anything up front. Just beware lawyers that take a percentage when they are just processing a will. We’ve seen some crooks (lawyers) end up with over $100,000 in legal fees because they took a percentage of a probate estate that had no disputes. The lawyers we know would have charged by the hour and the total fees would have been less than $5,000.

We are always happy to talk with you for free to see if there is anyone that we know for your case or if there is way to get an attorney that won’t collect if they aren’t successful. So please feel free to contact us at any time and we’ll do whatever we can for you.

Written by Michael Helfand