Fee disputes and legal malpractice

For attorneys, collecting fees for work performed is a standard part of practicing law. But when your legal fees amount to much more than expected and it does not seem as though your attorney completed the work billed, a fee dispute can occur. When you and your attorney cannot reach a payment agreement for work performed, a legal malpractice claim may follow.

Evidence in the invoices

A fee dispute can provoke or aggravate a legal malpractice claim. When a client feels as though the lawyer overcharged for services or billed for work not carried out, the client will often refuse to pay. For victims of overbilling, a legal malpractice claim can be a way to recoup the costs of inadequate representation.

If the dispute escalates into a legal malpractice claim, the attorney's invoices can serve as valuable evidence. When reviewing fees for a legal malpractice suit, the actual bills can provide a wealth of information about the work the attorney did or did not complete. Erroneous or unreasonable bills can help prove your claim.

Avoiding a fee dispute

Before signing a fee agreement with an attorney, make sure you understand how the billing process works and your expected costs. A lawyer may not be able to tell you exactly how much you case will cost, but he or she should be able to provide a reasonable estimate based on past cases and the case details you provide. When reviewing a fee agreement, look for information regarding:

· Type of fee arrangement: Common fee types include a flat fee, contingency fee or an hourly fee structure. If your lawyer charges by the hour, clarify the minimum billing segment, such as a quarter of an hour.

· Billing frequency: The frequency your attorney will bill you, such as monthly, quarterly or when your bill reaches a certain amount. Make sure to check for interest or other additional charges you may be expected to pay.

· Invoice detail: If possible, request an itemized list of all charges and additional costs on each invoice.

Even if you take precautions to carefully review the fee agreement, unexpected charges can still come up. If you suspect overbilling or a fee agreement violation, you may be able to pursue a legal malpractice claim.

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