A: A "Disbursement" is the money that an attorney pays to prosecute your case over the course of the litigation. It's better to use the term "expense" than the word "disbursement." In personal injury, accident cases, medical malpractice and wrongful death cases in New York, the attorney will pay for all of the necessary expenses to get your case through the entire litigation. That includes obtaining your medical records, paying for experts to review your records, paying filing fees to the court and having a court stenographer at your question and answer session, also known as a deposition.
Other expenses include hiring investigators to go to the scene of an accident, or interview witnesses and obtain statements from witnesses. Other valid expenses include creating a mock-up of whatever caused your injury. It could also include hiring experts to create computer-generated animation to re-create your accident in order to show what happened to a jury. Other expenses include preparing your experts for trial and the time involved in their preparation. Hiring someone called a process server to serve subpoenas on different witnesses before trial is also considered a proper expense. Creating enlargments or exhibits are valid expenses too.
All of these monies are paid by the attorney, and it is literally an interest-free loan in order to move your case forward to trial. The expectation is that, if and when you are successful with your case, then the attorney's expenses are repaid to the law firm.
Out of the remaining money, the attorney's fee is calculated, and you get the remaining amount.