Hiring an attorney is an expensive endeavor. Obviously, you do not want to spend more than is necessary when it comes to obtaining legal representation. You definitely do not want to be overcharged by legal counsel. If you feel that you were billed improperly by your lawyer, there is a course of action available to you through which you can dispute attorney fees.
Review every line item in the statement you received from the attorney. Compare with your own records and recollections regarding the services rendered to you by your lawyer. Keep in mind that most attorneys bill in either quarter hour or tenth of an hour increments. This is considered a reasonable billing practice in all states.
Examine your fee agreement to determine if some of the charges that you initially object to are in fact covered by the fee agreement itself. You may find that there are charges you previously agreed to be responsible for that are indeed included in your bill.
Prepare a detailed and comprehensive itemization to your lawyer of the charges you dispute. Ask your lawyer to provide supporting documentation and materials regarding the charges you question. Allow your attorney a couple of weeks to respond and provide to you the information requested.
Examine the documentation provided by your attorney. If you remain unsatisfied and believe the fees charged are not correct, reasonable or appropriate, advise the attorney of your ongoing objections in writing. Provide the lawyer with a set period of time to revise the bill or tell your counsel that you will take additional steps.
Find out if the local bar association or state agency that licenses attorneys has established a fee dispute resolution committee. Many communities now have these committees to provide assistance to people like you. (Attorney state licensing agencies can take a number of different names: disciplinary administrator, attorney regulation counsel, and similar identifiers. The Supreme Court in your state can direct you to the correct agency.)
File a request for fee dispute resolution with the appropriate committee. You will be assigned a representative to oversee your complaint and to attempt to resolve the fee dispute.
Contact the office of attorney regulation referenced previously if there is no fee dispute resolution committee in your area or if you are not satisfied with the results of that committee. You can file a formal complaint with that agency and have your fee issue reviewed.
If you remain dissatisfied with the determination of the attorney regulatory agency, you have the option of not paying the portion of the bill to which you object. If the attorney attempts to collect from you through the court system, you can use your objections as a defense. The court will be the final authority on whether these are fees that you should pay.
- If the bar association's fee dispute committee or the state attorney regulatory authority weigh against you in regard to your objection, closely reconsider your position. You may want to consult with an attorney about your fee issue (particularly if there is a considerable amount of money in dispute). You don't want to end up involved in a court case that you cannot win.