March 31, 2017 civil procedure

When Overbilling Leads to Disciplinary Sanctions

By Charles S. Fax

Pop quiz: Those of you who have never had a fee dispute with a client, raise your hands. I’m waiting. How about those of you who haven’t had a fee dispute in the past year? I suspect I’ll see only a few hands.

Unfortunately, fee disputes can be routine for many lawyers, whether they charge a flat fee, or bill hourly or on a contingent basis. While often these disputes are resolved amicably, occasionally they are not, resulting in mediation, arbitration or litigation. A fee dispute can also have more serious consequences – namely, bar sanctions, including suspension and disbarment.

I was reminded of the potential for severe consequences when I recently saw a jarring headline in a legal periodical: “Attorney Disbarred for Charging Unreasonable Fees.” “Boy,” I thought, “talk about a wake-up call!” Given the issues at stake, I decided it would be worthwhile to take a refresher on when an allegedly inflated fee might lead to sanctions, and how to avoid them.

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