Can I Sue for Legal Fees?
Yes, in some situations you can sue to recover your attorney fees in a lawsuit. Getting legal fees can save you a lot of money, especially in a long or complex lawsuit. If you want to know more about recovering legal fees covered as part of your lawsuit, you may want to get legal advice from an experienced attorney.
Who Pays Legal Fees?
In the American legal system, each side is generally responsible for paying for their legal fees, which is known as the American rule. In other words, if you hire a lawyer to represent you in a lawsuit, you will have to pay your own attorney fees, expenses, and court costs. There are exceptions to the American rule, however, where you may be able to pursuade a court to order the other side to pay your legal fees.
Fee Shifting Laws
Fee-shifting laws may require the losing side to pay your fees and expenses in some types of cases. State and federal statutes may include these loser-pays types of rules to help people who may be at a financial disadvantage or to punish bad behavior, like in civil rights or workers' rights cases.
Some contracts have provisions that cover who pays the legal fees if a dispute comes up. This is common in business contracts where an attorney-fee provision says if there is a breach of contract, the other side can get an award of attorney fees. If you have a contract with an attorney-fee clause, you may be able to get the other side to pay the expenses of taking the case to court.
If you are charged with a crime and do not have the money to pay for a lawyer, a public defender may be appointed for you and you won't be required to pay legal fees. Defendants are notified of this right in one of the Miranda warnings that many people are familiar with. However, not just anyone gets a free lawyer. You generally have to show that you don't have enough income or assets to qualify for a free lawyer.
If you are represented by a free legal service, then you may not have to pay for a lawyer. Legal aid services, legal clinics, non-profits, and some law firms provide legal help without charge. Providing free legal service is known as pro bono. Pro bono service can include representing people who qualify as low-income, elderly, disabled, immigrants, and juveniles.
When Can I Sue For Legal Fees?
Suing for legal fees is common in many lawsuits. However, just because you sue for legal fees doesn't mean the judge will give them to you. Some states have laws that require the party that loses a lawsuit to pay the winning side's legal fees in certain cases. These are called prevailing party provisions. State and federal laws that may include covering the prevailing party's legal fees include:
- Wage and labor violation lawsuits
- Anti-discrimination lawsuits
- Consumer protection claims
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Environmental protection claims
If you have a right to recover fees and expenses as the winning party in a lawsuit, the judge may consider several factors in deciding to award reasonable attorneys' fees or not. Factors the judge will look at could include:
- The conduct of each party
- Whether the lawsuit was made in bad faith
- Whether the claims and defenses asserted in the lawsuit were reasonable
- Whether the losing party deserves to be punished for bad behavior
- Whether the losing party or others should be deterred from similar behavior in the future
How Much of Your Legal Fees Are Recoverable?
If you win your lawsuit, the judge could make the opposing party pay all, some, or none of your legal fees. Depending on your case, you may still have to pay the remaining legal costs, such as court filing costs, even if you win.
Lawyers use may use different types of fee agreements, depending on the nature of the case and representation:
- Hourly rates
- Flat fees
- Set fees or statutory fees
- Contingency fees
Hourly Attorney Fees
Many lawyers charge by the hour for work done. Your fee agreement will show how much the lawyer is charging for their time, which could be anywhere from $100 an hour to $500 an hour, or more. The fee charged generally depends on the type of legal issue, region, reputation, and the experience of the lawyer. In addition to your attorneys' fees, you will still have to pay your legal expenses and court costs.
A flat fee agreement means that your lawyer charges a flat rate for services. This fee structure is generally used in more simple legal cases, like fighting a traffic ticket, making a simple will, or handling an uncontested divorce. A flat fee arrangement may not cover any complications that come up, and you may have to pay more for additional services if the nature or complexity of the case changes during the course of representation.
Contingency Fee Agreements
A contingency fee means that the lawyer is paid if you win or settle your court case. If the lawyer loses your case, then you may not have to pay a fee. This kind of fee structure is common in personal injury and medical malpractice cases, where your lawyer will get a percentage of any award or settlement you receive. Make sure you understand the fee arrangement before you sign anything because many contingency fee agreements still require you to pay expenses and court costs if you lose.
If You Do Want to Sue For Legal Fees, Talk to a Lawyer
Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, but you may not have to pay if you win your case. Shifting legal fees may not be available in all types of lawsuits. Make sure you understand the attorney fee agreement before hiring a lawyer. Talk to a lawyer in your area about your case and find out if there are ways you can sue for legal fees so you don't have to pay them.