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Resolving Attorney-Client Fee Disputes

Finances are tricky, and the pressures surrounding financial standing can lead people to take drastic actions. On top of the emotional connection many people have to their money, the subjectivity surrounding legal fees can make it difficult to clearly identify when a particular fee or billing arrangement is out of line. After all, one man’s “reasonable fee” is another man’s “fleecing.”

Luckily, there are legal, ethical and professional standards in place to provide guidance for resolving legal fee disputes. If you are involved in a dispute with your attorney or former attorney, it is in your best interest to have an experienced attorney looking out for your interests during the course of your dispute. In Southern California, that means turning to Makarem & Associates. We are led by a California State Bar certified malpractice specialist who has been resolving these thorny issues since 1997.

Adding Financial Insult To Legal (And Financial) Injury

“Salt in the wound.” “Adding insult to injury.” Choose whatever phrase you want, but the experience of losing a legal case and then being involved in a dispute over the fees is awful. To many clients it feels like they purchased a car that blew up on the way home, leaving them with hefty monthly payments minus the utility that comes with a working vehicle.

The raw emotions involved can leave a person thinking “why should I pay for such a dreadful outcome?” Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately: the outcome of the case itself has no bearing on whether your attorney deserves to be compensated for their work (unless you had a clear, contingent fee contract in place as is common in personal injury, workers’ compensation, or disability cases). A lawyer could do ethical, thorough work and be a fierce advocate for your interests and still end up with the short end of the stick once the results come in. It happens.

Attorney-Client Fee Arrangements And Disputes

Almost every attorney-client relationship will involve one of the following fee arrangements to provide compensation for the attorney’s services:

  • Hourly rate, where services are provided and then billed based on an agreed-upon hourly rate
  • Contingency, where an attorney will be compensated when/if a settlement or jury award is reached via a percentage of the proceeds
  • Retainer, where a client pays a set price upfront for the attorney’s representation
  • Fixed fee, where a client pays a set amount for a specific case and whatever representation that case requires

Despite the seemingly cut-and-dry nature of such arrangements, it’s not uncommon for disputes to arise upon the conclusion of a case. When a dispute arises, the attorney and client can agree to enter mediation or arbitration according to the terms of their contract. In some cases, an attorney may file a lawsuit in order to collect fees, which typically leads to a client filing a countersuit.

What’s The Right Course Of Action For You?

Going into arbitration, mediation or litigation against an attorney on your own is not a good place to be. Before you take any further action surrounding your fee dispute, it’s crucial to seek the advice of an experienced attorney with experience resolving legal malpractice claims and legal fee disputes. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation to learn more about your options.