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Suing Your Client for Fees

Unpaid fees often reflect client dissatisfaction. Suing to recover those fees can be like throwing salt on a wound. Our claims experience reveals that one predictable outcome of a lawyer's action on an account is a client's counterpunch by way of a counterclaim based on alleged malpractice. Now that is a headache you can live without. Lawyer beware -- you are in the Danger Zone.

If you have an outstanding account,

  • Start talking - Communicate with your client to understand why it is unpaid and listen so you understand what the problem really is.
  • Explain all work done to justify the account. It is not always obvious to the client. A review with them of your dockets and reports may be necessary.
  • Respond promptly to client questions.
  • Offer to compromise or to mediate.

  • Only sue after above tactics fail and only if the account is large enough to justify the aggravation and exposure to a claim that could follow.

In all other cases,

  • Adopt a preventative approach to fee billing and collection by discussing and documenting fee arrangements at the outset of the client's retainer and commiting to a budget with room for unexpected events.
  • Keep on top of client expectations and keep the client updated on your efforts to accomplish the representation.
  • Bill regulary in amounts manageable to the client.
  • Keep on top of receivables to enable client to pay -- a large debt can seem insurmountable for a client.


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