How do I find a lawyer who'll work on contingency?

Learn how to find a lawyer who'll work on contingency.

By , Attorney · University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law


I was severely injured by someone acting recklessly on an ice rink last month and would like to sue the other skater and possibly the rink. Unfortunately, I don't have the money to pay an attorney to represent me. How do I find a lawyer who will agree to get paid out of the award and take a lawsuit on contingency?


In a contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer representing you gets paid by taking a percentage of your award as a fee for services. If you lose, the attorney receives nothing.

This situation works well when you have a winning lawsuit. Many lawyers will agree to accept the case in exchange for a significant portion of your settlement or award—33% to 40% on average. However, you should be aware that unless you make other provisions, you'll likely be responsible for paying the costs in your personal injury case, such as filing, service, and expert fees, in addition to the contingency fee amount.

Not all lawyers will take contingency cases, since they require a significant amount of work without pay for an extended period. Even if it's a winning case, some attorneys might not be financially prepared to take it on. They need the flow of paying clients to cover office costs and other expenses.

Some of the best ways to find a lawyer who will work on contingency include:

  • asking friends and relatives
  • doing a Google search (for example, "contingency attorneys in San Diego")
  • contacting your state bar association, or
  • using an online attorney referral service.

Typical sorts of cases that lawyers will take on a contingency fee include those involving:

A lawyer evaluating a possible contingency fee will make an educated guess about how complicated the case will be and how long it will take. Lawyers are most likely to take matters on contingency if they think the expected recoveries are significant enough to make it worthwhile.

Once you find an attorney willing to take a case on a contingency basis, ask questions. Not only is it essential to be confident in the lawyer's expertise, but it's also good practice to inquire about:

  • how the lawyer will approach your case
  • a fee estimate
  • the likelihood of success, and
  • how much the lawyer expects you'll receive in damages.

Keep in mind that it isn't ethical for an attorney to change the fee agreement unilaterally or without your consent. Also, a client should be advised to seek counsel from an independent attorney before agreeing to any changes to ensure the amendment is in the client's best interests.

For more information, read What You Should Expect From a Lawyer.