Ask about legal fees.  A lawyer should offer you the choice of paying cash as you go along, but that can be expensive.  Or, a lawyer can offer you a Contingency Fee agreement under which he agrees to handle your case for a percentage of the total award.  If you lose, you do not pay his legal fee.

In most states, the maximum percentage of your winnings a lawyer can take under a contingency agreement is controlled by law.  In other states, lawyers can charge whatever the client will agree to, within reason; however, there is one thing you should know.  A lawyer can always agree to reduce his fee.  Only the maximum is set by law.  If a lawyer tells you that 40% of your award is the authorized legal fee in your state, he means that 40% is the most the courts will allow him to charge you.  It does not mean that he cannot give you a better deal.  Any lawyer can negotiate his fee with you, and you should try to get the best possible arrangement, especially if your case is worth a substantial amount and a large legal fee.  Do not be afraid to ask.

Discuss legal expenses.  These are the costs of prosecuting your lawsuit, in addition to the lawyer’s fees.  Lawyers will tell you that legal ethics prohibit them from paying your legal expenses, and in theory that is correct.  However, no rule prohibits them from advancing you the money for your legal expenses, as a loan against the anticipated proceeds of your lawsuit.  That is a much better arrangement, and if you have suffered a medical disaster, you probably cannot afford to pay the expenses.  The lawyer can advance you the money for legal expenses as a non-recourse loan (if the case is lost, you cannot be forced to pay it).  You should also have a firm understanding as to what the lawyer will do for his fee and what he will charge you as expenses.

If the lawyer you interview cannot or will not underwrite your expenses as a non-recourse loan, it may be a red flag that he is either an inexperienced lawyer, who does not do much medical malpractice or dental malpractice work, or he does not have the organization and financial resources to handle your case adequately.  Experienced medical malpractice and dental malpractice lawyers have the funds to finance good cases.

Talk to more than one lawyer or law firm before you sign a retainer agreement.  You may end up with the first lawyer you talk to but not before you have had a chance to compare him to other lawyers.  A little comparison shopping will give you a better deal and maybe a better lawyer.

The Rule Is: A medical malpractice or dental malpractice case is a long haul.  You need a lawyer, who is not only competent but is also patient and understanding, and with whom you can work.  You would not hesitate to consult more than one doctor before having surgery, so do not be intimidated or afraid to tell a lawyer you will think it over and get back to him.

Since 1978, JD.MD, Inc. has proudly served the U.S. and Canadian legal communities in helping determine if a malpractice case has merit.  Malpractice lawyers can contact us at or by calling toll-free 1-800-225-5363.