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How Much Does a California Workers' Comp Lawyer Cost?

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.
Victoria Muñoz
Lead Attorney
May 30, 2024  ·  4 min read
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As you navigate the workers’ comp process, a lawyer can help whether you have an issue or just need guidance. Fortunately, workers’ comp lawyers are also affordable because they offer a free consultation and don’t charge any upfront fees. Before you sign any paperwork with a lawyer, though, ask them about their exact fee and when you would have to pay it. If you already signed retainer documents, your contract should break down the lawyer’s fee and other costs you might owe.

How much a workers’ comp lawyer costs in California

The contingency fee for a California workers’ comp lawyer usually ranges from 9% to 15%, with 15% being the standard in Southern California and big cities, like San Francisco.

Maximum fees are set by state law, so most firms charge the same amount. If you have questions about how much you’ll pay or when you’ll pay the fee, ask your lawyer before you sign anything. If they don’t offer to sign an official fee disclosure agreement, ask them to complete it for you.

Understanding the contingency fee

Reputable workers’ comp lawyers charge a contingency fee, meaning their payment depends on their ability to get you benefits. If you don’t win benefits or agree to a settlement, you don’t have to pay their fee. It’s that simple.

Wait…state documents say 12% is the maximum fee

Yes, we know it’s confusing. Most California state documents and web pages say the maximum fee is 9% to 12%. That range was set years ago by state law but over time, state courts have allowed higher lawyers fees. At this point, 15% is standard in many areas, with slightly higher fees possible in particularly complex cases.

The reason fees have changed is that ultimately, state law requires a judge to decide what a lawyer can reasonably charge. For every case with a settlement agreement, a judge needs to sign off on the deal and the lawyer fee before the claimant has to pay anything. Especially as the cost of living has gone over time, courts have allowed higher fees.

That said, you shouldn’t have to pay more than what you agreed to pay in your lawyer’s retainer documents. And even if you signed a contract that said you’d pay 20%, a judge would likely decide that the lawyer can only charge you up to 15%.

Atticus has answers to your workers' comp questions.

Other fees you might have to pay

Some extra costs may come up during your case that your lawyer will pass on to you. You still won’t have to pay them until after you win money and they’ll usually come out of your settlement automatically so that you don’t have to make any additional payments.

Possible fees you could owe are:

  • Filing fees, like for court documents or liens

  • The cost of obtaining medical or governmental records

  • Your lawyer’s travel costs, like mileage for travel to hearings

  • Independent consultations or medical exams that your lawyer paid for out of pocket

Potential fees should be explained in your lawyer’s contract, and the details of your claim could affect which expenses apply to you. But a good lawyer will take the time to answer your questions, so ask anything you need to feel comfortable before you sign a retainer document.

Learn more about other costs that could come out of your settlement.

How to pay your workers’ comp lawyer fee

Your lawyer’s fee automatically comes out of your settlement or the workers’ comp checks they helped you win. You don’t have to pay the fee separately.

If you sign a settlement agreement, your lawyer’s fee will be taken out and sent to your lawyer before the rest of the payout is sent to you. Compromise and release settlements only require a one-time lawyer payment. Stipulation with a request for award agreements will result in the lawyer’s fee coming out of each future check. (Learn more about the types of settlements.)

For ongoing benefits, your lawyer’s fee will come out of any payments they helped you win. That can include past-due benefits, temporary or permanent disability payments, and death benefits.

Lawyers typically don’t take any fees out of benefits like medical coverage that don’t directly pay you money.

A breakdown of workers’ comp lawyer fees in California

Bringing all of this information together, here’s what you can expect to pay for a workers’ comp lawyer in California:

Workers’ comp lawyer service


Initial consultation


Settlement negotiation

9% to 15% of total settlement amount

Negotiation for ongoing benefits (temporary disability, permanent disability, and death benefits)

9% to 15% of back pay on past-due benefits and some future payments

Additional fees

Depends on your case and lawyer, but usually minimal

Can you negotiate your lawyer fees?

Most workers’ comp lawyers won’t negotiate their fee. They tend to have a standard fee that they charge all clients. Since fees are closely regulated by state law, most lawyers in your area also charge the same fee as each other. For example, the vast majority of Southern California law firms charge a 15% contingency fee.

Do you always need a workers’ comp lawyer to get benefits?

You don’t need a lawyer to get workers’ comp benefits, but everyone who files a claim could benefit from one — even people who don’t end up having issues with the process.

An experienced workers’ comp lawyer offers knowledge that only a professional can. They know your state, county, and city workers’ comp laws through and through, so they can help you get full benefits. They have a network of trusted local doctors who handle workers’ comp injuries. They have also worked with the state workers’ comp board and judges, so they know how to build the strongest case if you go to court or run into issues.

An initial consultation is also free, so there’s no harm in asking questions. Cost shouldn’t affect you throughout the case either since you pay nothing upfront and don’t owe a cent until after your lawyer gets you a settlement.

There are situations when you could especially benefit from hiring a lawyer, such as:

  • Your employer doesn’t do their part to file your workers’ comp claim.

  • Your employer’s insurance denies your claim.

  • Your medical care is denied.

  • You get an incorrect medical diagnosis from your workers’ comp doctor that prevents you from getting the benefits you need.

  • Your employer’s insurance offers to settle.

  • You want to go back to work part-time but don’t want to put your benefits at risk.

  • You want to apply for disability benefits while receiving workers’ comp benefits.

Related article: What Does a Lawyer Do That I Can’t?

Do you pay a higher fee if you change lawyers?

There is no cost to hire, fire, or change workers’ comp lawyers. If you do change lawyers, you still pay the same total fee. The difference is that the fee is split up between all the lawyers who worked on your case.

Because of the way the fee is split, you could have a hard time hiring a new lawyer after firing one. Before making any changes, we suggest talking to your current representation about issues you’re experiencing. Read more about changing lawyers here.

Connect with an experienced lawyer today

Atticus is a California law firm with local lawyers across the state. If you want to connect with a lawyer or have questions about your claim, Atticus can help. Take our two-minute quiz (or call us at the number below) to get started. Then our team will call you to learn more about your situation, answer questions, and connect you with a lawyer who is a fit for your claim. Talking to Atticus is free, your first conversation with one of our lawyers is free, and you’ll never pay any upfront fees.

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Frequently asked questions about lawyer fees

What’s the average fee for a California work injury lawyer?

The fee for a California workers’ comp lawyer ranges from 9% to 15%, with slightly higher fees possible for complicated cases in cities with a higher cost of living.

When do I have to pay the fee?

Workers’ comp lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, so you don’t need to pay anything upfront. The fee will automatically come out of the settlement or benefits they win you. Reputable workers’ comp lawyers charge a contingency fee so if someone is asking for upfront payment, that should be a red flag.

How does a contingency fee work?

With a contingency fee, you don’t have to pay your lawyer until after they get you results. If they can’t help you get a settlement or win benefits, you don’t have to pay their fee.

Are there other costs I need to pay the lawyer?

The lawyer’s contingency fee is the only cost for many people but you may have to pay for other expenses that your lawyer pays out of pocket, like filing fees. These fees will come out of your total settlement.

Will my lawyer take part of my medical benefits too?

No, lawyers typically don’t collect fees out of medical coverage benefits or other types of awards that don’t directly pay you money.

How much does it cost if I change lawyers?

Nothing. You pay the same total fee even if you fire one lawyer and finish your case with a different one. The total fee is split between your lawyers. For that reason, changing lawyers is sometimes difficult.

Can I negotiate a lower fee?

You can ask but workers’ compensation lawyers are very unlikely to change their fee. Because fees are very standardized across the state, your lawyer usually charges the same for every client.

Related resources:

California Workers' Comp: Everything You Need to Know

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

Your Guide to California Workers’ Comp Settlements

A hand draw portrait of a smiling, helpful lawyer.
By Victoria Muñoz

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A drawing of the lead workers' compensation lawyer for Atticus.

Victoria Muñoz

Lead Attorney

Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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