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legalgems
legalgems, Lawyer
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 7454
Experience:  Just Answer consultant at Self employed
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Charged with vehicular assault in CO. DUI. Contacted a

Customer Question

Charged with vehicular assault in CO. DUI. Contacted a lawyer who said he would take the case for $3500. A month later received a letter that said, "if the case were to enter a pre-trial phase, the fee would be $18,000."
Is this ethical? Should that not have been disclosed in the beginning? I could pay the $3500 but not the $18k and now what do I do? Had I known this before, I would asked for defenders office.
Submitted: 9 months ago.
Category: Legal
Customer: replied 9 months ago.
I paid the $3500 before that letter was sent. Nothing in writing was given upon original "acceptance" of the case.
Expert:  legalgems replied 9 months ago.

I'm sorry to hear this.

According to Rule 1.2 an attorney's representation may be limited if the client consents. The court will look to see if a reasonable person would have understood there to be consent regarding the limitation.

That Rule states:

(a) Subject to paragraphs (c) and (d), a lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation and, as required by Rule 1.4, shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation. A lawyer shall abide by a client's decision whether to settle a matter. In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client's decision, after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial and whether the client will testify.

(b) A lawyer's representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

(c) A lawyer may limit the scope or objectives, or both, of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent. A lawyer may provide limited representation to pro se parties as permitted by C.R.C.P. 11(b) andC.R.C.P. 311(b).

(d) A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client and may counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law.

Rule 1.5 states:

(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee and expenses shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be promptly communicated to the client, in writing.

This requires the attorney to, within a reasonable time, provide a written fee agreement. Generally this is construed to mean prior to accepting payment (so that the client is aware of the terms of the fee agreement).

You will see in the comments (https://www.cobar.org/index.cfm/ID/22129) that a detailed written fee agreement is not always necessary- but this is limited to cases where there is a pre-existing relationship so that the client is familiar with the attorney's practices.

One can ask the attorney to refund the money so that the client may then pursue alternative legal representation; alternatively, one can request that the attorney honor the original agreement.

If the original agreement, even though verbal, stated that the attorney would represent the client in the matter, and if the attorney fails to do so, that is a breach of contract. Generally in that instance, the attorney would be liable for the cost of securing alternative representation if the attorney does not continue with the representation.

It can also result in sanction by the state bar if a complaint is filed.

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