What Are Unreasonable Attorney Fees?

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What Are Unreasonable Attorney Fees?

Judge’s gavel atop piles of hundred dollar bills.

After a long expensive legal battle, you may look at your final bill and wonder if it was worth it –- you may even be wondering if your lawyer overcharged you for their services. How are clients supposed to know what is fair and what is an unreasonable attorney fee? And what protections are there for clients whose lawyers have overcharged?

It happens more than you would think. There are attorneys out there who are willing to charge exorbitant fees that their clients cannot afford — why? Because they think they can get away with it. But you don’t have to let them.

Ross Sears and the lawyers who sue lawyers at Sears Crawford have been suing attorneys in Texas who have financially harmed their clients for over 30 years, and they can help you too. Call Ross Sears at (713) 223-3333 to discuss your case, and begin the process of getting what you deserve today.

What is an unreasonable fee?

Attorneys calculate their fees based on their level of experience, the complexity of the case, and the time and effort that will be required to resolve the case. An unreasonable fee is one that is not justified based on those factors.

But what is an unconscionable fee? According to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, a fee is unreasonable if a “reasonable” attorney believes it to be unreasonable. The statutory language reads like this:

“A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect an illegal fee or unconscionable fee. A fee is unconscionable if a competent lawyer could not form a reasonable belief that the fee is reasonable.”

This language itself isn’t very helpful, but it provides latitude when determining whether or not attorneys are charging excessive fees. Your attorney should bill for their services transparently, and provide a breakdown of the types of services rendered as well as how much time was spent on each service. Some more obvious ways that an attorney can charge an unethical fee include the following:

  • Double or triple billing for a task, which can include billing one client two times for a task performed once, or billing two clients for work or research that they only performed once, or having 2 or more lawyers unnecessarily perform the same task, just to run up the fees.
  • Bill padding, or charging for work that was not done.
  • Unreasonably billing for trivial tasks or menial work that can be performed by someone at a much lower hourly rate.
  • Billing for work that is not reasonably described or is intentionally vague, like “work on file” or “review of materials.” This doesn’t describe what was reviewed or worked on.

Additionally, your attorney should never surprise you with fees. If your attorney’s billing statement does not list a breakdown of services rendered, or those services do not add up with the total amount billed, they may have committed legal malpractice.

What is the definition of reasonable attorney fees?

What are the factors a court will look at to determine the reasonableness of a fee? Whether your attorney is charging a flat rate, an hourly rate, a contingency fee, or a combination of the above, courts will look at a handful of circumstances when determining if a fee is unreasonable.

  • Time and labor spent on the case
  • Novelty or difficulty of the expertise required
  • Fees customarily charged for similar services
  • Results obtained in the case
  • The time limitations of the case
  • The length and nature of the relationship between attorney and client
  • Experience, reputation, and ability of the attorney
  • Fee structure

What is considered “reasonable” is determined by the industry standard as well as the many other factors above. If you disagree with the fees that your attorney charged for their services you can file a fee dispute with the Client-Attorney Assistance Program, file a grievance with the State Bar of Texas, or hire a legal malpractice attorney in Houston to possibly sue your previous lawyer.

How to prove attorney overbilling

Overbilling is one of the more common examples of unethical attorney behavior for which clients seek to sue their lawyers. To successfully sue your previous attorney for charging unreasonable attorney fees, you’ll need to hire a legal malpractice attorney who knows how to prove attorney overbilling in a court of law.

To prove that your attorney overcharged you, your new attorney will do the following things, among others.

  1. Gather detailed billing records. Attorneys typically provide detailed billing records that outline the time spent on various tasks related to the case. Your legal malpractice attorney will review these records and look for discrepancies, inflated hours, or entries that seem unrelated to the case.
  2. Compare with customary fees and quotes. Your new attorney will know what the going rates are for comparable services and will furnish testimony from other attorney(s) to illustrate the inflation of your previous attorney’s bills.
  3. Review the fee agreement. The agreement that you have with your previous attorney can often provide a lot of information about billing practices and what kinds of fees to expect — if the two don’t match up, your new attorney will use that to help your case.

Proving attorney overbilling can be a challenging task, but it isn’t impossible with the right legal malpractice attorney by your side. You can take steps to help your attorney prove that you were overcharged, such as keeping detailed documentation surrounding all payments you made and services rendered by your previous attorney, but the main thing that you can do to help your case is to hire a lawyer who knows how to fight excessive attorney fees, like Ross Sears at Sears Crawford.

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

Sue your lawyer for unreasonable attorney fees with the legal malpractice lawyers at Sears Crawford

If you believe that your previous attorney charged you unreasonable attorney fees or otherwise hurt your case, you should have an experienced legal malpractice attorney examine your case as soon as possible. You may be owed compensation for the unreasonable fees or compensation related to the outcome of your case, but you’ll never know until you talk to a lawyer who sues lawyers.

Ross Sears has made his name suing lawyers who have done their clients harm and has over 30 years of experience righting wrongs for his clients by suing their lawyers. If you or a loved one believes that your lawyer caused you harm, call Ross Sears at Sears Crawford today at (713) 223-3333 or contact us online for a consultation.

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