By Amy Feldman

By Amy E. Feldman

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – What is a contingent fee? It’s a contract written by a lawyer – so be careful.

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A New Mexico jury just convicted a man who choked into unconsciousness an employee at the personal injury law firm he’d hired because he was mad he had to pay a $115 medical bill in connection with his claim.

I think we all sympathize with that desire to choke the breath out of a lawyer feeling but first, understand who is the lawyer and who’s just a worker bee in the firm.

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Second, understand what you’re gonna be billed for when you hire a lawyer to handle your personal injury claim. You may have heard that if you file suit, you only have to pay the lawyer a third of whatever you win, and if you don’t win, you don’t have to pay.

That’s a standard contingent fee – the lawyer’s take is contingent on winning the case.

But read the fine print because it probably says that you will have to pay costs like medical bills, expert witness fees and so on. Those get deducted from the total settlement before the lawyer takes a cut.

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If you don’t win, you usually don’t have to pay costs but sometimes the contingent fee contract says that you will be the one to pay out of pocket regardless of whether you win, so ask before signing it or risk having that want-to-choke-somebody feeling after you lose the case and lose more money in costs.