How To Fight Excessive Attorney Fees

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How To Fight Excessive Attorney Fees

Hands counting out a stack of 100-dollar bills.

Although your attorney is often your fiercest and most important advocate during the hardest times of your life, it’s no surprise that hiring one can be expensive. But what do you do when your attorney charges you more than they should? At what point does it become unethical, and what can you do about it?

Attorney overbilling happens a lot more often than you would expect, and clients often don’t realize they are being taken advantage of until it’s too late to do anything about it. If your attorney overcharged you or charged you for services they didn’t perform, it might not be too late for you; you may be able to sue your attorney for unreasonable attorney fees.

If you’re wondering what makes fees unreasonable, how to fight excessive attorney fees, or if you can sue your lawyer, then you’re in the right place. Ross Sears, the legal malpractice attorney of Sears Crawford and lawyer who sues lawyers, has been holding attorneys accountable for over 33 years. If you need a legal malpractice attorney in Houston, you need to give Ross a call at (713) 223-3333 and ask him to sue your lawyer.

When can you sue for unreasonable attorney fees?

While there are countless examples of unethical attorney behavior, you can only successfully sue your lawyer if they committed legal malpractice. What is legal malpractice? Legal malpractice occurs when an attorney acts (or fails to act) how a reasonable attorney would act (or not act) under similar circumstances and that action (or non-action) harms their client.

There are several ways in which an attorney can commit malpractice or breach their fiduciary duty, but charging excessive or unreasonable attorney fees is one of the most common.

What is an unreasonable fee?

What are reasonable attorney fees in Texas? To explain what is reasonable vs. unreasonable we should first talk about how lawyers are paid in Texas. The three pay structures that are most common for attorneys are:

  1. Hourly rates
  2. Flat rates
  3. Contingency fees

No matter which type of payment structure you and your attorney used, they can overbill you. The following are some examples of what overbilling might look like within each of the unique pay structures:

  1. Your attorney on an hourly rate exaggerated how much time was spent on tasks, or charged you for tasks that were either already completed or didn’t need completing. Another way that attorney’s overbill clients is by having multiple attorneys and support staff perform the same work, or that one or two people should have been able to perform, rather than 3 or 4 people. For example billing for 2+ people attending a simple hearing at the courthouse, when one person would have been more appropriate.
  2. An attorney on a flat or agreed rate may see that the case will take much more effort than anticipated and decide to do much less work. This would mean that they not only overcharged you for their efforts but also that they may have committed another form of malpractice. Surprisingly, some attorneys charge upfront money and then do no work at all.
  3. An attorney on a contingency fee (a percentage of the client’s final payment from winning a civil case) can charge an exorbitant contingency fee and leave their client with much less than they deserve. Oftentimes an attorney will charge a client a contingency fee on a simple case that should have been handled on an hourly basis, just so they can make more money. This benefits the lawyer and not the client, which is a violation of our Ethical Rules. At the end of your case, if your attorney made more money than you did, you may have a viable claim against your attorney.

Attorneys who attempt to overbill their clients do so because they know that most people have no point of reference for how much time needs to be spent working on their case, or how much money it should cost. If you suspect that you were overbilled by your attorney, you should call a trusted legal malpractice lawyer to discuss your case before it’s too late.

Continue reading: When is it too late to fire your attorney?

What factors may be taken into account in determining if a fee is unreasonable or excessive?

The Texas Disciplinary Rules (1.04) state that the following factors are to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee:

  1. Time and labor required, novelty and difficulty of the subject matter, and the skill required to perform the services properly.
  2. The likelihood that accepting this case would prevent an attorney from taking other cases.
  3. Fees customarily charged for similar legal services in the locality.
  4. The dollar amount involved and the results obtained in the case.
  5. Time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances of the case.
  6. The nature and length of the professional relationship with the client.
  7. The attorney’s experience, reputation, and ability.
  8. The fee structure.

It will be essentially impossible to determine on your own if your attorney’s fees would be considered unreasonable. If you suspect that your attorney charged you unreasonable attorney fees, your best bet is to call a trusted legal malpractice lawyer, like Ross Sears at Sears Crawford, to ask them to review your case.

How to prove attorney overbilling

Proving attorney overbilling can be a challenge, but the best thing you can do to prove that your attorney charged you unconscionable fees is to hire a winning legal malpractice attorney who knows how to prove attorney overbilling. You likely won’t be able to do much on your own, but by working with an attorney you will likely be able to do the following:

  1. Document all communications with your attorney. The more you document (via email, letter, text, audio recording), the better chance your legal malpractice attorney will be able to find proof of malpractice.
  2. Gather financial statements and any documentation that you can find. Similarly to communication documentation, the more proof that you can bring to your new attorney, the better. This would include any billing records from your attorney in an hourly billing case, or the “settlement statement” showing the breakdown of the settlement in a contingency fee situation.
  3. Compare fees to market rates with your legal malpractice attorney. Your legal malpractice attorney should be familiar with customary fees/rates charged in the area and should know what you should have paid for your legal services.
  4. Check for duplicate items and inconsistencies in your documentation. Your attorney will be able to see through the legalese and tell you whether or not you were taken advantage of.

Wondering how to fight excessive attorney fees? Ross Sears of Sears Crawford can help.

If you want to fight excessive attorney fees you’ll need to move quickly. If you wait too long to sue your lawyer it won’t matter if you and your attorney have stone-cold proof, once the statute of limitations has passed you might be out of luck.

Although hiring another attorney might be the last thing that you want to do, working with a trusted attorney can protect you from the damage done by your previous one, and make sure your rights are protected moving forward.

At Sears Crawford, we sue lawyers! If you believe that you have been a victim of unethical billing, call Ross Sears today at (713) 223-3333 or contact us online before it’s too late.

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