Over the years, I’ve spoken with many consumers who want to hire an attorney but assume they can’t afford to hire one. This couldn’t be further from true. Many consumer protection statutes have “fee-shifting” provisions within them. What does that mean? Well, in simple terms, it means the company we sue may have to pay your attorney’s fees and costs in addition to the money they pay to you. As explained by the American Bar Association:
Fee-shifting statutes and rules vary, sometimes requiring the loser in a legal matter to pay for the legal fees and costs of the prevailing party. But in some circumstances, the fees are unilaterally shifted so that losing defendants must pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees and costs. These provisions are designed to attract lawyers to public interest cases that otherwise would not seem worth the investment. The “American Rule” requires each party to bear its own attorney’s fees in litigation absent a statutory or contractual exception. Fee-shifting provisions are the exceptions to that general rule. The clients do not pay advance fees or retainers; attorneys collect payments through the fee-shifting provision or a settlement agreement. The threat of paying attorney’s fees can add pressure to the opposing party to settle the case and settle it quickly.
If you have a claim, and that claim can be brought under a fee-shifting consumer statute (such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or Fair Credit Reporting Act, to name just a few), your attorneys can seek approval of a reasonable fee from the court or from your opponent, not from you. So don’t hesitate to call an attorney just because you think you won’t be able to pay him or her. Both Congress and the Illinois legislature anticipated this problem, and passed laws to prevent it.