Updated: 2020-06-22 by
If you may be (or already have been) denied unemployment benefits in California, you may be wondering whether you need a lawyer -- and whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. (If you're wondering what a lawyer can do for you, check out Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You.) It all depends on your financial situation and how (and how much) the attorney charges. In some situations, an unemployment attorney may be willing to offer you a contingency fee arrangement. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award.
Below, we explain some typical attorney fee arrangements in unemployment cases.
Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether it makes sense to fight your employer in an unemployment claim, appeal, or lawsuit – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together.
Once you have gathered a few referrals (from friends, colleagues, or lawyer directories), you should contact each lawyer to set up a meeting. At the meeting, explain your situation. For example, your state’s unemployment agency may have denied your claim for benefits because you were fired for misconduct, but you might believe you were wrongfully terminated for complaining about discrimination. The lawyer will review the facts, explain the legal theories that might apply to your situation, and describe how the lawyer would move forward in representing you, if you have strong legal claims against your employer.
Many attorneys offer an initial consultation free or at a reduced hourly or flat fee. For example, an attorney might offer a free 30-minute consultation, a consultation of up to two hours for a flat fee of $200, or a consultation of any length for an hourly fee of $150. When you call to set up your consultation, ask what the attorney charges for the consultation. Also find out what the attorney would like you to bring. Some attorneys ask new clients to prepare a timeline of events, for example. Particularly if you are paying by the hour, you will want to be efficient in explaining your situation.
If you and the attorney decide to work together, the attorney will give you a written retainer agreement to sign, setting forth the terms under which you will work together. The retainer agreement will explain how fees and costs will be paid. Read this section carefully, and ask the attorney to explain anything you don’t understand.
For an unemployment case, there are several different types of fee arrangements an attorney might offer:
- Hourly rate. If you want to consult an attorney behind the scenes or simply get some questions answered about whether you should pursue an unemployment appeal, for example, an attorney might offer you an hourly rate. Whether it makes sense for you to go ahead will depend on how much the attorney charges, how long your case may take, and how much you can afford to spend. Be sure to ask the lawyer for an estimate of how long your case will take.
- Flat fee. Some attorneys handle certain matters, including unemployment appeals, for a flat fee. The fee is intended to cover all of the attorney’s work on the case. The retainer agreement should spell out how much you will owe and exactly what the attorney will do for that money.
- Contingency fee. Attorneys handle many types of employment cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you don’t have to pay the attorney out of pocket for his or her time. Instead, the attorney collects a fee only if you win, and the attorney’s fee is a percentage of what you receive. Not all attorneys will take a regular unemployment case for a contingency fee. However, if you have other legal claims against your employer (such as a wrongful termination case or a discrimination claim), an attorney may be willing to handle your whole case on a contingency fee basis, including your claim for unemployment benefits.
You may also be interested in:
Learn how a lawyer can assist you with your unemployment case in California.
Here are three easy ways to find an unemployment attorney in California.
Use these resources to find a local lawyer for your unemployment claim or appeal.