No matter what amount of money you are spending on a lawyer's services, you want to ensure that you are receiving the services you are paying for. Paying more money than you should or expected to can be a frustrating experience, which could otherwise mar a solid attorney-client relationship.
There are many ways to handle a billing dispute to protect your pocketbook.
What Should You Do?
When you receive a bill from your lawyer, it's essential to look closely to see what they are charging you for. In most cases, lawyers will provide an itemized statement detailing each service charge. This can include charges for:
- Phone calls, emails, and other correspondence
- Working with outside experts
- Trial preparations
Suppose you think the bill contains an error or something you did not agree to. In that case, you should contact your lawyer immediately and try to resolve the problem directly and amicably. You should bring a copy of your fee agreement to show your lawyer why you think there was a billing error.
In many cases, lawyers will negotiate a positive outcome. In some cases, you may need more detail to understand why the lawyer did not make a specific charge in error.
Arbitration for Resolving Billing Disputes
If you cannot resolve your problem, many state and local bar associations offer fee-arbitration programs to resolve these disputes.
Arbitration panels and committees offer an out-of-court forum to settle disputes between lawyers and clients. Generally, arbitration is a simpler process than going to court. Typically, either the client or lawyer involved in a fee dispute can request arbitration by writing to the appropriate authority. Both parties need to agree to the process. If you do not want to use arbitration to resolve a billing dispute, you may need to hire another attorney to represent you and protect your interests.
Financial Losses Through Attorney Misconduct
For losses suffered by a lawyer's conduct, you might be able to recover some of your losses through a client trust fund. Many of these funds are run by state bar associations or state courts. Typical losses reimbursed by funds like these include the theft of
- Estate and trust assets
- Escrow deposits in real estate transactions
- Settlement money in personal injury litigation
- Debt collection receipts
These funds can also reimburse clients for money embezzled in investment transactions with law clients and unearned fees paid in advance to lawyers who falsely promise their legal services. If you want more information about client protection funds, you can read more at the American Bar Association's website.