If your client has a problem with the fees you are charging or is demanding financial compensation from you, this matter should be taken very seriously. How to approach the way you should be compensated can make the difference between finding a solution and having a complaint filed against you or you could wind up in court. There are different ways to approach the problem. We are here to help you with this situation and can sit with you behind the scenes to work this out, and also represent you should the need arises.
Generally there are three situations where a client may dispute your fees:
Fees paid to the lawyer.
If a dispute arises concerning how much of a fee the lawyer deserves it can be heard by the fee dispute committee of the local county bar association. This committee then determines how much is appropriate. If the issue is the nature of the fee and why and how it was withheld, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania's Disciplinary Board Counsel can be contacted. Counsel will let you know if your fee question must first be resolved by a local fee dispute committee.
Losses due to negligence of a lawyer.
If there's an economic loss by the client which may have been caused by a lawyer's misconduct (such as missing the statute of limitations before filing a case) Pennsylvania's disciplinary system has no fund or resources to pay these claims. In this situation a client may have grounds to sue you for legal malpractice, a negligence claim to recoup losses.
Losses due to embezzlement by the lawyer.
Pennsylvania does provide a way for a client to be reimbursed for claims arising from a lawyer's failure to deliver promised services or his or her misappropriation of money. The Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund For Client Security administers a fund, paid for by all lawyers practicing in the state, which compensates clients for funds improperly taken by their lawyers. This fund doesn't cover professional negligence or fee disputes.
The Office of Disciplinary Counsel doesn't have the authority to order a lawyer to pay a client a sum of money that he or she may owe the client.
In addition to a possible malpractice case a client may also have grounds for a contract claim against a lawyer. They may be able to claim the attorney breached the contract (the representation agreement) and therefore are owed damages to cover economic losses. If possible embezzlement is involved that also could be the subject of a civil lawsuit.
If you are involved in a fee dispute with a current or past client, contact our office so we can talk about what's happening, the basis of the dispute and your best options to resolve the conflict.