How Much Does an Employment Attorney Typically Charge?

Thinking about suing your employer for wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination or wage theft? If so, you probably want to know how much an employment attorney will charge you. In fact, one reader wrote recently to ask: “how much is the percentage of the attorney’s fees taken out?” We’ll answer that question and some others that tend to come up around this topic below.

What to Expect From An Employment Attorney Consultation

First, it’s important to know every employment attorney in our network offers free, no-obligation consultations for people who need legal advice. These consultations can happen online or by phone, so you don’t have to worry about putting yourself at risk. So no matter what your employment issue is, a nearby local attorney can help you.

Once we match you with an attorney for your free legal consultation, what happens next? Lawyers that work on contingency typically only accept cases they strongly believe they will win. So if you don’t have an especially strong case or you missed your deadline to file, the lawyer will tell you that. In fact, this is the main reason for employment attorney consultations: Seeing whether or not you have a valid case. Once you’re done reviewing your case, choosing whether or not to move forward is entirely up to you.

How Contingency Fee Percentages Usually Work

Once you decide you’re ready to file your claim, how much will your employment attorney charge in legal fees? It varies by state and firm, but in most cases, it’s around 30%-40% of your final settlement award amount. Employment lawyers that negotiate an out-of-court settlement typically charge closer to 30%. But if you have a complicated case or insist on going to trial, 40% in contingency fees is more likely. That’s because going to trial takes much longer to resolve your claim (around two years). However, if your employment lawyer negotiates and out-of-court settlement, you’ll resolve your case in potentially half that time.  

Wondering what happens if you lose your case after it goes to trial, or your employment attorney can’t reach a settlement? If you don’t win, then you owe your lawyer $0 in legal fees. You’ll only pay a contingency fee for legal representation after your lawyer gets you a cash settlement. Maybe now you’re thinking you can negotiate a settlement on your own without using a lawyer. Most people who attempt this — even with seemingly clear-cut claims — do not win their cases. Many companies now require settling such disputes through arbitration.

Employment Attorney vs. Arbitration: Settlement Amounts, Case-Win Rates & Resolution Times

Still not sure whether you can afford to have an employment attorney handle your case? Here’s some statistical data that might help you decide:

  • A 2005 study found the average employment discrimination settlement won through arbitration (not a lawyer) was $54,651/person
  • Just 525 out of 17,000 employment discrimination cases in that study went to trial (i.e., 3.4%)
  • Around 70% of similar cases with lawyers were settled out of court
  • A 2011 study shows employees that try to settle through arbitration win just 21.4% of their cases
  • Lawyers win 46% of employment discrimination claims overall (57% in state courts, 36.4% in federal courts)
  • Employment discrimination settlement amounts negotiated by lawyers in 2007 paid claimants $236,292 each, on average
  • Average discrimination settlements won through arbitration in 2007 paid claimants $109,858 each, on average
  • Arbitration cases typically settled in about 362 days; trial-based litigation took nearly two years to complete, on average
  • Cases settled out of court through an employment lawyer usually get resolved in 284 days or less

So, you’ll get up to 51% more money in a cash settlement through an employment attorney, even after legal fees. Plus, out-of-court settlements usually pay plaintiffs three months faster than those that people resolve through arbitration. You’re also 2x more likely win a settlement if a lawyer handles your claim vs. trying to go it alone through arbitration.

Related: When Is Filing a Wrongful Termination Case Worth It?

Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity,, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.