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Lawyer Sues Clients for Money; Not Sure of What to Make of All of This

by Carolyn Elefant on July 22, 2005 · 1 comment

in Client Relations, Dealing With Clients, Setting and Collecting Fees

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I’m not sure what to make of the story described in this article, Law Firm Sues Couple Over Past Legal Fees (7/23/05).  Seems that a couple spent three years fighting to keep a large subdivision from being built near their home, racking up $92,000 in legal fees in the process (in addition to which, they are $370,000 in debt).  Apparently, they won their battle and received $16,000 in court costs, but not the $225,000 they requested in legal fees (the article’s not clear on the difference between the amount of fees requested and amount that the couple seeks to recover).  In any event, now the firm that represented the couple is trying to recover roughly $12,000 in unpaid fees, in monthly installments of $500, which they claim they can’t pay.

Not sure what the right result is here, without further facts.  I think
that so long as legal fees are reasonable and incurred pursuant to a
retainer, clients should pay.  The fact that they incurred $92,000 in
fees and have only $12,000 more left isn’t an excuse for waiving the
fee, though some might argue that lawyers are better off eating the
cost than filing suit and inviting a malpractice claim (I don’t agree
with that position if the lawyer’s done a good job).

At the same time, $92,000 seems like an awful lot of money for a
lawsuit to fight a development.  I wonder whether the attorneys ever
discussed the growing bill with the clients or whether their decision
to pursue this claim made sense give the increasing costs.  And do
attorneys have that duty anyway or are they bound to pursue what the
client wants, without any suggestion to the contrary.

Again, there’s not much in the story to go by, just a large bill, a
lawsuit for fees and a winning result that doesn’t seem that it’s worth
the cost.  The main question in my mind  is whether the clients
realized that and proceeded anyway – or whether their attorney could
have made them think about whether their desired result justified the
cost – and didn’t.

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