Attorneys handling general litigation issues may work from a retainer agreement (where they request a bulk amount from the client which is held in escrow and accessed as the attorney spends time working on the case) and/or they may bill clients on an hourly basis.
For some litigation, an attorney may enter into a Contingent Fee Agreement (whereby the attorney agrees to represent the individual in exchange for a set percentage of any financial settlement or award). If your attorney works on contingency, you will be asked to sign a contingency fee contract. Make sure you understand the terms of the contract before signing. Also, request a copy of the contract for your records.
Litigation settlements may include awards for: actual damages suffered (i.e. medical, employment, financial), emotional damages (i.e. pain and suffering and embarrassment), and, in rare instances, punitive damages (damages to punish the offender and serve as an example to deter others from acting similarly).
Attorneys typically charge for expenses incurred on behalf of clients. These expenses may include copying charges, long-distance phone charges, postage, faxes, court filing fees, the cost of court reporters, expert witness fees, investigator fees, medical report fees, and other expenses associated with handling your case.
If your attorney will be charging by the hour, ask him/her to put the fee arrangement in writing. This will help you and your attorney clarify what you will be charged for, when you are expected to pay your invoices, and what you should do if you have a concern about the fees.
You may also be asked to sign releases for obtaining medical records, lost wage information, or other personal records.