Here’s a really great article by Steve Raiser, when it comes to attorney-client relationships and how they may change due to nonpayment. Steve is a trusted NYC criminal attorney and NYC personal injury lawyer, who practices in both NYC and Los Angeles.
One of the most commonplace issues that erupt between an attorney and client involves attorney fees. If you find yourself facing a dispute regarding attorney fees, you likely have some questions. For example, you may wonder what to do if your attorney is threatening to sue you if you do not pay more in attorney fees.
The Agreement Governs
The manner in which you respond to an attorney seeking more money for fees depends on the agreement between you and legal counsel. For example, if you are required to make additional hourly payments when the retainer is exhausted in a case, the fact that your lawyer is seeking additional compensation is appropriate. However, and as will be discussed in a moment, there may be an issue regarding the way he or she is seeking additional payment from you.
Another situation in which your lawyer may have a valid claim for fees is if he or she made some sort of installment payment arrangement. If you are not up to date on the payment agreement with your lawyer, you are in violation of an agreement with that legal professional.
If there is nothing in an agreement calling for additional fee payments, and your lawyer nonetheless is making a demand for more compensation, you are in a strong position not to hand over any additional money.
The Manner in Which Your Attorney Seeks Additional Fees
If you are still in an attorney-client relationship with your lawyer, and he or she starts threatening you with suing you for fees, that can be a problem for your legal counsel. Taking such a position may run afoul of the code of professional responsibility, the code of conduct for lawyers.
In order for an attorney to commence legal action against you regarding a fee matter, he or she cannot any longer be in an attorney-client relationship with you. The lawyer needs to withdraw from your case before he or she starts taking steps to collect money he or she feels he is owed.
If you have a case that is in court, the withdrawal of your legal counsel is not as easy as it may seem. The court will need to approve the lawyer leaving your case and ending his or her representation of you.
Get Attorney Fee Agreement in Writing
Keep in mind that a fee arrangement with an attorney is a contract for services. The lawyer agrees to provide you with certain legal services in consideration of the fee you pay to that professional. A key consideration to keep in mind when engaging legal representation is to get a fee agreement in writing.
The fee agreement should be signed before the attorney commences representing you. The basic elements of a fee agreement can be discussed at an initial consultation with an attorney. However, you should not feel rushed to sign a contract at the time. As with any contract, you need to take the time to read it and make sure you do not have any questions about its terms and conditions.
Certain disputes are addressed when an attorney fee agreement is in writing. Although disputes can arise over written agreements, including those governing attorney fees, when contracts are in writing, they avoid a he-said, she-said situation.
Attorney Fee Mediation
In jurisdictions, the bar association maintains a program to provide mediation assistance between an attorney and a client when it comes to a fee-related issue. If you are no longer represented by an attorney threatening legal action, you can reach out to the bar association to ascertain what might be available to you in the way of fee dispute assistance.
While people cannot be forced into mediation, including a lawyer, odds are that an attorney will be at least generally willing to attempt mediation before moving forward with a lawsuit. An attorney suing a client does not always send out the most professional message.
Open, Clear Communication is Fundamental
One strategy to employ to avoid disputes between an attorney and a client is open, clear, and consistent communication. This type of communication is important in regard to fees, particularly when there appears to be something of a fee agreement looming on the horizon between you and your lawyer.