Understanding (and Signing) the Mesothelioma Attorney-Client Agreement

Shaking hands

In an earlier post we discussed how communication is vital to the attorney-client relationship. Once you’ve selected a qualified attorney who communicates clearly with you and makes you feel comfortable, it’s time to seal the deal by signing a client agreement.

A client agreement outlines the duties and responsibilities of both the attorney and the client. The agreement, which may also be called an engagement letter, often appears in the form of a letter with space at the end for your signature. Your attorney will prepare the document for your review.

If you have already established a good rapport with and trust your attorney, you may be tempted to sign the agreement without further discussion. But you should review the document and ask questions. Both parties should understand each other’s expectations from the beginning of the relationship.

Common Agreement Provisions

A client agreement usually addresses the following, among other issues:

Fees

This section of the agreement explains your lawyer’s fee for representing you. Mesothelioma attorneys usually request one of three types of payment methods, including:

  • Contingency Fee

    Most mesothelioma attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means that your attorney’s payment depends on whether your case is successful. The attorney typically receives a percentage of the amount you win at trial or receive from a settlement. The percentage sometimes differs depending on the stage in which your case ends (e.g., whether it settles before discovery, trial or entry of a final judgment). If you do not receive compensation, you usually do not pay anything.

  • Flat Fee

    Some lawyers charge a flat rate to represent you. Unlike attorneys who work on a contingent basis, these attorneys receive some payment regardless of whether you win.

  • Hourly

    Other lawyers charge an hourly rate for the time they spend working on your case. These rates range from a couple hundred to several hundred dollars per hour, depending on rates in your lawyer’s particular market. They receive at least some payment regardless of whether you win. (Be aware that plaintiff’s attorneys must spend countless hours preparing and litigating a case. This can become quite costly during lawsuits which can last for years. If the case goes to trial, your attorney could end up working around the clock for several weeks. Fortunately, most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency or flat fee basis.)

Expenses

These include costs such as court filing fees, research costs, photocopies, costs of transcribing depositions, postage, and creating trial exhibits. The law firm will likely front these costs. But be sure to find out if and how they will be reimbursed, particularly if the case is ultimately unsuccessful.

Duration of Engagement

Never assume your attorney will represent you if a trial verdict is appealed by you or by a defendant. Most engagements terminate after a settlement or a final judgment, whichever occurs later. Separate counsel is usually hired to handle appeals. Trial attorneys often do not represent cases if there as an appeal, but rather refer them to lawyers who work exclusively on appeals.

Confidentiality

This section explains how your attorney will keep your personal information confidential. Only information that is relevant to your case and discoverable under court rules will be provided to the defendants. Your communications with your attorney will also be kept confidential.

Conflicts of Interest

Your attorney must disclose any relationships with clients who have opposing interests. For instance, ethical rules would likely prohibit an attorney from representing both you and the asbestos manufacturing executive whose decisions caused your injuries. Likewise, it would be inappropriate for an attorney to accept the engagement if he or she has an ownership interest in a company you are suing. The attorney will check for any conflicts before entering into a client relationship with you.

Client Responsibilities

This section explains how you are expected to cooperate with those handling your case. For instance, you must keep your attorney informed if you move or if any of your contact information changes. (Your attorney will also promptly notify you of developments in your case.)

Termination

Occasionally a client, an attorney or both may decide the attorney-client relationship should not continue. This section explains how either party should go about ending the relationship. Court approval is generally required before an attorney can step down from a case. Arrangements must also be made to transfer files and share information with new counsel.

There are also a few things you should clarify that aren’t necessarily covered in the client agreement. For instance, you will want to find out your primary point of contact at the law firm if you have questions. You also will want to discuss mutually convenient times and methods of communication (e.g., by phone, mail or e-mail).

Again, remember that satisfied clients and attorneys are clear about their expectations from the start. If you have any questions or concerns about your client agreement, do not hesitate to ask your lawyer for clarification. Also check our legal pages for tips on working effectively with a mesothelioma attorney.


Karen Marshall has more than 17 years of legal experience and is an attorney with The Peterson Firm. She has been contributing to The Mesothelioma Center since 2011 and writes about asbestos-related legal issues and blogs for Asbestos.com.

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