Tips for Attorneys to Avoid Fee Disputes and Legal Malpractice Claims
Attorneys collect fees for their work performed. This is a standard part of practicing law. However, when attorney fees exceed their client’s expectations, the lawyer may be accused of legal malpractice, and a fee dispute may follow.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid a fee dispute and shield oneself from the negative consequences of a legal malpractice lawsuit.
The Importance of the Attorney’s Invoices
When a lawyer and his/her client cannot reach a consensus regarding the payment, a fee dispute can either give rise to a legal malpractice claim or aggravate the existing one.
When clients feel that their attorney overcharged them for services or billed for services that were not completed, the client may refuse to pay. When parties cannot find the middle ground, a legal malpractice claim can help the client avoid having to pay for allegedly inadequate representation.
If a fee dispute grows into a malpractice lawsuit, the attorney’s invoices can serve as invaluable evidence. Those bills can provide tons of information about the work the lawyer completed and how much his or her services cost when reviewing fees during a malpractice lawsuit. Any unreasonable bills or the lack of invoices may help the client prove their claim.
How to Avoid a Fee Dispute (and a Legal Malpractice Claim)?
However, it is advisable to avoid a fee dispute altogether rather than watch it escalate into a legal malpractice suit. Before your clients sign a fee agreement, make sure that they understand how the billing process works.
While it may not be possible to evaluate precisely how much your client’s case will cost, you should be able to provide a reasonable estimate based on similar past cases and the facts of your client’s case.
Ask your client to pay particular attention to the following sections of the fee agreement:
- Type of fee arrangement. Lawyers in Florida usually charge clients on a contingency fee basis, though some maintain an hourly fee structure. If you charge by the hour, clarify the minimum billing segment (e.g., a quarter of an hour or ½ hours.).
- Billing frequency. Many lawyers prefer to bill their clients quarterly or monthly, while others send an invoice when their bill reaches a certain amount.
- Invoice details. It is advised to create an itemized list of all charges, including additional costs and interest, in your invoices.
During your first meeting with the client, explain what expenses will likely be incurred and the basis on which your attorney fees will be determined. Encourage your clients to ask questions and give clear, precise answers. These steps can help you avoid a fee dispute.
What to Do if Your Client Refuses to Pay Attorney’s Fees?
If a fee dispute cannot be avoided, only file a lawsuit if you:
- Have a clear and fully understandable fee agreement with that client;
- Obtained a positive result for the client;
- Determined that the client can afford to pay you;
- Are prepared for a potential counterclaim for legal malpractice;
- Had an unbiased and independent lawyer review your case; and
- Determined that the unpaid amount warrants litigation.
Consult with our West Palm Beach legal malpractice attorneys at Pike & Lustig, LLP, if you cannot resolve your fee dispute or are facing a malpractice lawsuit. Contact our lawyers by calling at 561-291-8298.