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Why is an attorney-client fee agreement important in a Texas medical malpractice case?

Mandatory proper contingency fee agreements reveal key terms and whether the attorney you think you're hiring will actually be doing the work

Medical malpractice cases are typically complex, costly, and time consuming. Legal requirements for medical expert witnesses mean that most cases will cost tens of thousands of dollars or more to prepare for trial.

Because clients generally don’t have the funds available to cover these expenses, most experienced medical malpractice lawyers handle cases under a contingency fee arrangement. Under this arrangement, the plaintiff’s attorney normally charges a fee of 40% of any recovery. The attorney also advances all case expenses and is reimbursed for those expenses out of any recovery by settlement or trial.

Under Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4(d), contingency fee agreements must be in writing. It’s a red flag if you seek to hire an attorney for a medical malpractice case who doesn’t present a written fee agreement.

Read the agreement carefully before signing it, asking questions about how the lawyer or firm handles expenses and other matters.

One issue that’s important to consider is what attorney will actually be doing work on your case. At Painter Law Firm, I personally handle all of our medical malpractice and never farm them out for someone else to do the work. As straightforward as that sounds, that’s not at all the case at different firms.

You see, medical malpractice is a unique area under Texas law that requires, in my opinion, a higher degree of competence and experience than is necessary to file a simple car wreck or personal injury (PI) lawsuit. Yet, many car wreck and PI lawyers who advertise on television or online make it seem they have this type of specialization.

Just recently, one of the biggest advertising attorneys in Houston contacted our office about wanting to send medical malpractice referrals. He explained that his firm gets a lot of medical malpractice leads in response to advertising and that they send 100% of them out to other attorneys to handle—in exchange for 50% of the attorney’s fees, while having no involvement in the cases, advancing no case expenses or taking any risk whatsoever. I said, “No thanks.”

By the way, this type of arrangement isn’t allowed by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. There’s an absolute bar on pure referral fees between attorneys where there’s no shared joint responsibility for a case. Plus, the rules require the fee sharing arrangement between attorneys to be spelled out in the contingency fee agreement, or some other agreement with the client. In my experience, a lot of legal advertisers flat out ignore this important rule.

So, when you’re deciding on whether to hire an attorney, be sure to ask if your case will be referred out or if he or she will be personally handling it. Then ask to see where that’s detailed in the fee agreement.

Excellent attorney-client relationships in Texas medical malpractice cases begin with full disclosure from both sides and a well-written contingency fee agreement.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of medical errors in Texas, then contact an experienced, top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.

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