If Your Lawyer Is Paid Last, He or She May Sue First

Tips on Maintaining Good Relations With Counsel

So, it's the 15th of the month, and your friendly neighborhood lawyer has sent you a bill for legal services performed a while ago.  Never mind that they stayed late to answer the phone and do your work.  Never mind that you complained about providing a retainer, although most attorneys request them for "good measure."  Do you think your lawyer won't take you to court?  If so, you could be very WRONG!  How can you maintain a good relationship with your counsel?  Simple!  Honor your fee agreement with your attorney.

Financial Problems are Real

We all understand that times are tough.  That said, please don't assume that all attorneys are rich, have tons of money, drive fancy cars and have nannies for their kids.  Attorneys are people too!  They have mortgages, insurance payments, grocery bills and overhead expenses.  When you don't pay, or even if you are late, imagine how you would feel if your employer did that to you!  If you don't receive your payment for your work on the 1st and 15th, we can predict how long you would wait to call someone for help.  So, you must keep in mind that if you sign an agreement with an attorney, or even if you make oral promises to pay them for services, the failure to honor the agreement could result in you being sued.  Simply put, the failure or refusal to pay legal fees puts pressure on the whole system, which causes many attorneys to charge more, so that the paying clients subsidize the non-paying clients.  That's how most of the world works.

Lawyers Have Ways to Find and Collect From Those Avoiding Them

Next, since attorneys are familiar with the court system, they will usually not hesitate to file a claim for unpaid fees.  As such, we thinks its most unwise to play foul with your lawyer!  After all, you hired him or her to be an aggressive attack dog on your behalf!  Do you really want that aggressiveness and tenacity turned around on you!  Believe me when I say, that as a lawyer, not only do I take unhappy clients very seriously, but I take my time and money more seriously. I'll make time to find a delinquent client, and I'll stop at nothing to get what is due.

Lessons to be Learned

1. Explain Financial Problems

If you have a problem with your finances, explain this to your attorney. Often people take alternative forms of payment, including credit/debit cards, exchange/bartering for services or goods, or payment plans;

2. Communicate

Good communication goes further than no communication. If you let the gap get too wide in the dispute or basis for your non-payment, then things may escalate beyond a point of return.  It's better to get problems resolved quickly.

3. It Will End Up Costing You Even More

If your lawyer does proceed against you, more likely than not, you may also end up paying for their legal fees, or other damages, depending upon what is written in your agreement.  Be sure you understand your liabilities.

4. Your Lawyer Will Work With You

FINALLY, please don't ever assume that the attorney will not work with you.  As your advisers and counselors, we want to work with all of our clients, for all of their needs.  This includes financial matters.  Why?  Because not only does the attorney-client relationship run more smoothly when financial concerns are kept at bay, legal services can be kept lower for all clients and the services you do receive, are of a higher quality, with a friendlier tone, in a more relaxed way of doing business.  When problems occur, the relationships are hard to maintain.  As such, we always hope to avoid them.

For more information on attorney-client relationships in Illinois, including real estate and litigation in Illinois, contact me any time.

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