How to Dispute Attorney’s Fees


When you hire a lawyer to represent you in a matter, fees are a natural part of the process. Legal fees cover the time, effort, and resources your lawyer and their team dedicates to your case. It’s essential to understand the structure of your attorney’s fees upfront to avoid confusion down the road. However, disputes do still arise, and there are steps you can take to help resolve the issue.

Rules around fees differ based on the state, but California Rule of Professional Conduct 4-200 prohibits attorneys from charging an “unconscionable fee.” The determination of what constitutes an unconscionable fee is based on the consideration of many factors, including the individual facts of each case.


Understand the Basics of Attorney’s Fees

Before starting a fee dispute, ensure you fully understand the basis for the fees and how your specific fee agreement is structured. If your lawyer charges fees in a manner outside of your agreement, you may have a solid reason to dispute the fees.

Here are some common payment structures in fee agreements:


  • Flat Fee – A one-time charge for work on a specific project or matter.
  • Retainer Fee – An upfront fee for ongoing services (this varies depending on the agreement structure).
  • Hourly Fee – You pay your lawyer (and possibly their staff) per hour of work on your case.
  • Contingency Fee – if your matter settles successfully, you owe your lawyer a portion of your monetary award as compensation. If you don’t win your case, the lawyer receives no compensation.

Once you understand how your fees are supposed to be calculated, you can review what the attorney charged to see if it aligns with your fee agreement. If not, consider getting in touch with another attorney.


Review the Fee Agreement

Before disputing an attorney’s fees, review the agreement you signed with your attorney. This agreement should outline the scope of services the attorney will provide, the basis for the fees, and any other terms or conditions that apply. Make sure you understand the terms of the agreement and that you have a clear understanding of the fees you will be charged.

If you have any questions or concerns about the fee agreement, contact your attorney and ask for clarification. Your attorney should be willing to explain the terms of the agreement and answer any questions you may have.


Have a Conversation with Your Attorney

Because litigation and fee disputes are complex matters, try to resolve the issue with your attorney first. Ask your attorney for a detailed explanation of their fees and the associated work, costs, and resources.

Be prepared to have a clear and concise discussion regarding your concerns, along with specific examples of why you believe the fees are excessive or unreasonable. Your attorney should be willing to listen to your concerns and work with you to resolve the issue. If they are unwilling or hesitant to discuss these with you, consider contacting another attorney.


Contact an Attorney Specializing in Fee Disputes

Attorney’s fees disputes are complicated, so you should contact a lawyer who specializes in this area.

With the help of an experienced law firm, navigating the waters of attorney fee disputes becomes much less fraught with uncertainty. Hiring a firm with experience resolving attorney fee dispute cases is central to a successful outcome.

Remember that if attorney fees remain unpaid, clients could be sued by their former attorneys, even if the charges are actively in dispute. A skilled legal professional can be a strong advocate in these disputes and even help avoid going to court (unless necessary).

The McGonigle Law team is highly regarded in legal malpractice and attorney fee disputes – reach out to us today for a conversation about your questions or concerns.


The information contained herein is for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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