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When thinking about hiring an attorney, the first question on everyone’s mind is usually, "What’s it going to cost me?" Generally, attorneys that represent plaintiffs (the person who was harmed) in defamation cases work on a contingency fee basis.
This means if you receive a defamation settlement, or if your defamation lawsuit goes to trial and you receive a judgment in your favor, the attorney will receive a percentage of the net recovery (usually after the attorney is reimbursed for costs). Typically, this is between 25% and 40%, depending upon when the case resolves. For example, often an attorney will charge 25% if the case resolves before a defamation lawsuit is filed, 33% if the case resolves before trial, and 40% i.a trial needs to be held. Learn more about how contingency fees work.
If you are a defendant in a defamation case, it's likely the attorney will request to be paid hourly. In this situation, the attorney will send you an itemized bill each month reflecting the number of hours he or she worked on your case, and an itemized list of the expenses incurred. This type of fee arrangement will also likely be coupled with a retainer, or an advance fee to secure the attorney’s services.
If you are a plaintiff, a big advantage in hiring a lawyer is that the firm will usually pay most, if not all, of the litigation costs. Defamation cases can be very expensive because they are very fact-driven. So, a lot of time and money will be spent in building evidence through investigation, depositions, and interrogatories.
In addition, a plaintiff in a defamation case may have to prove "actual" damages suffered with respect to his or her property, business, trade, profession or occupation, including any expenses the plaintiff had to pay as a result of the defamatory statements. Providing a monetary figure to value the harm to your reputation or business can be difficult. Usually, you will have to hire an expert witness to come up with this figure. Expert witnesses can be costly, especially if they have to testify at trial. An attorney will usually cover these costs. But remember, if there is a judgment or settlement in your favor, the attorney will be reimbursed for these costs.
After getting your defamation lawsuit started by filing the complaint in court and serving the defendant, the next step in the litigation process is discovery. During this stage, both sides exchange information in preparation for trial. An attorney can be particularly helpful in drafting interrogatories (questions the other party must answer in writing and under oath), taking depositions (question-and-answer sessions under oath), figuring out what records to ask for from the other side, and more.
Discovery requires in-depth knowledge of evidence rules, as well as an understanding of legal strategy.
Most civil lawsuits settle, and defamation cases are no exception. Out-of-court resolution typically occurs before trial, by way of settlement negotiations between plaintiff and defendant (and their attorneys). Additionally, a defamation case may settle through some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration. Occasionally, a defamation case may settle even before a lawsuit needs to be filed, because of a particularly persuasive demand letter.
If the parties do not settle, the defamation case will proceed to trial, when both the plaintiff and defendant will present their cases, including expert testimony. You'll lean most heavily on your attorney at this stage, because trial can be complex and time-consuming. Remember, defamation cases typically turn on questions of fact, meaning that a jury will need to be convinced that plaintiff was actually defamed and harmed by what happened. An experienced attorney will know how to put on the best case, to ensure the best outcome.