Climate Change Project

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Justice is expensive in the United States. Every citizen has the right to seek redress for his grievances in the courts. The problem is paying the bills. Lawyers' fees are typically $75 to $400 an hour, and associated costs can amount to tens of thousands of dollars.

If the lawyer works for a percentage of the plaintiff's award (a contingent fee), the fee must cover three costs of litigation. The first is the out-of-pocket costs and the salaries for the support personnel in the lawyer's office. Out-of-pocket costs include filing fees, court reporters, expert witness fees, copying charges, and payments for other goods and services necessary to prosecute a case. In a contested medical malpractice case, these costs usually run $20,000 to $40,000.

The second is the value of the attorney's time. In a contested malpractice case, the attorney may invest hundreds of hours of work that will never be paid for if the suit is unsuccessful. The third component is the uncertainty and delay in litigation. The attorney must invest time and cash in a case that might take years to resolve and result in no payment. The attorney may have $150,000 in direct and indirect costs at risk in a case. Plaintiff's litigation is a business gamble.

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