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Dwayne B.
Dwayne B., Attorney
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Experience:  Began practicing law in 1992
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We live in Pennsylvania. My wife, , was seeking legal advice

Customer Question

We live in Pennsylvania. My wife, Sara, was seeking legal advice regarding an employment contract and money owed back if we were to leave the area before her obligation period had ended. Basically, she wanted to know how much, if any, money she would have to repay. She contacted two lawyers under the impression that she was having a free consultation.
We met with the first attorney and explained the issue. We were instructed to give him a copy of the contracts (there were two) and a copy of the monthly income allocation sheets. We were told at that time what the retainer fee was and we were asked to schedule an appointment. We did not.
She contacted the second attorney by phone to attempt to schedule an appointment for the consultation. Instead, he directed her to send the contract and income allocation sheets to him via email. They exchanged several emails and texts but they never met. Within the emails, the attorney explained that he did some calculations and he thought she would owe a specific amount back. (However, this was different than my own calculations and I have a BA in Mathematics).
Regardless, she just received a bill for $1740.00 minus $240 discount ($1500.00 total). She never entered into an agreement to use his services. Perhaps even more importantly, he NEVER disclosed his legal fees. He NEVER told her how much he charges or discussed payment with her. From what I could find in my brief search, according to § 81.4. Rules of Professional Conduct, under Rule 1.5. Fees,
(a) A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee.
(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.
Under the comments, it states "In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to the fee should be promptly established. It is not necessary to recite all the factors that underlie the basis of the fee, but only those that are directly involved in its computation. It is sufficient, for example, to state that the basic rate is an hourly charge or a fixed amount or an estimated amount, or to identify the factors that may be taken into account in finally fixing the fee."
She is extremely upset by this bill and we are looking for some quick advice. We are considering contacting the PA Bar Association to issue a formal grievance if necessary.
Thank you for your kind assistance,
Mark and Sara
Submitted: 7 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Dwayne B. replied 7 months ago.

Hello and thank you for contacting us. This is Dwayne B. and I’m an expert here and looking forward to assisting you today. If at any point any of my answers aren’t clear please don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Also, I can only answer the questions you specifically ask and based on the facts that you give so please be sure that you ask the questions you want to ask and provide all necessary facts. Please note: This is general information for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. No specific course of action is proposed herein, and no attorney-client relationship or privilege is formed by speaking to an expert on this site. By continuing, you confirm that you understand and agree to these terms.

Is there a specific question with which I could assist?

Customer: replied 7 months ago.
Can an attorney in Pennsylvania that you never met, only spoke to on the phone once and through a chain of several emails, bill $1740.00 for services without an agreement that you will use his services (no contract) and without ever disclosing the legal fees?
Customer: replied 7 months ago.
We live in Pennsylvania. My wife, Sara, was seeking legal advice regarding an employment contract and money owed back if we were to leave the area before her obligation period had ended. Basically, she wanted to know how much, if any, money she would have to repay. She contacted two lawyers underthe impression that she was having a free consultation.We met with the first attorney and explained the issue. We were instructed to give him a copy of the contracts (there were two) and a copy of the monthly income allocation sheets. We were told at that time what the retainer fee was and we were asked to schedule an appointment. We did not.She contacted the second attorney by phone to attempt to schedule an appointment for the consultation. Instead, he directed her to send the contract and income allocation sheets to him via email. They exchanged several emails and texts but they never met. Within the emails, the attorney explained that he did some calculations and he thought she would owe a specific amount back. (However, this was different than my own calculations and I have a BA in Mathematics).Regardless, she just received a bill for $1740.00 minus $240 discount ($1500.00 total). She never entered into an agreement to use his services. Perhaps even more importantly, he NEVER disclosed his legal fees. He NEVER told her how much he charges or discussed payment with her. From what I could find in my brief search, according to § 81.4. Rules of Professional Conduct, under Rule 1.5. Fees,(a) A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee.
(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.Under the comments, it states "In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to the fee should be promptly established. It is not necessary to recite all the factors that underlie the basis of the fee, but only those that are directly involved in its computation. It is sufficient, for example, to state that the basic rate is an hourly charge or a fixed amount or an estimated amount, or to identify the factors that may be taken into account in finally fixing the fee."She is extremely upset by this bill and we are looking for some quick advice. We are considering contacting the PA Bar Association to issue a formal grievance if necessary.
Customer: replied 7 months ago.
We live in Pennsylvania. My wife, Sara, was seeking legal advice regarding an employment contract and money owed back if we were to leave the area before her obligation period had ended. Basically, she wanted to know how much, if any, money she would have to repay. She contacted two lawyers under the impression that she was having a free consultation.We met with the first attorney and explained the issue. We were instructed to give him a copy of the contracts (there were two) and a copy of the monthly income allocation sheets. We were told at that time what the retainer fee was and we were asked to schedule an appointment. We did not.She contacted the second attorney by phone to attempt to schedule an appointment for the consultation. Instead, he directed her to send the contract and income allocation sheets to him via email. They exchanged several emails and texts but they never met. Within the emails, the attorney explained that he did some calculations and he thought she would owe a specific amount back. (However, this was different than my own calculations and I have a BA in Mathematics).Regardless, she just received a bill for $1740.00 minus $240 discount ($1500.00 total). She never entered into an agreement to use his services. Perhaps even more importantly, he NEVER disclosed his legal fees. He NEVER told her how much he charges or discussed payment with her. From what I could find in my brief search, according to § 81.4. Rules of Professional Conduct, under Rule 1.5. Fees,(a) A lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal or clearly excessive fee.
(b) When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.Under the comments, it states "In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to the fee should be promptly established. It is not necessary to recite all the factors that underlie the basis of the fee, but only those that are directly involved in its computation. It is sufficient, for example, to state that the basic rate is an hourly charge or a fixed amount or an estimated amount, or to identify the factors that may be taken into account in finally fixing the fee."She is extremely upset by this bill and we are looking for some quick advice. We are considering contacting the PA Bar Association to issue a formal grievance if necessary.
Expert:  Dwayne B. replied 7 months ago.

The lawyer is supposed to inform the client as to fees.

The fee isn't enough to be considered exorbitant or unconscionable or clearly unreasonable although it is high.

The section you mention, 2(b), which states "When the lawyer has not regularly represented the client, the basis or rate of the fee shall be communicated to the client, in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation doesn't give a specific time which is considered a "reasonable time after commencing representation. I don't see dates in the facts you gave but his sending the bill would be providing the basis or rate of the fee., particularly if it were a flat rate.

The issue as to whether she agreed to pay him and whether he told her it was going to be a free consultation is a question of fact for either the Bar or a judge to decide.

If she has something in writing from him, such as an ad where he states "initial consultation is free" then that would, of course, go a great deal of the way to proving that he shouldn't have charged her anything. You state that she was "under the impression that she was having a fre consultation but you don't mention why she had that impression". Of course, that will be important as well.

This is probably a good situation to file with the Bar's fee dispute resolution process. There is information about that at https://www.pabar.org/public/committees/ALT02/disput.asp adn if this occurred in Philadelphia itself then the city bar association has its own process whch yu can read about at http://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/LawyerClientFeeDisputes?appNum=4

If your question has been answered then I'd offer my best wishes to you and ask that you please not forget to leave a Positive Rating so I receive credit for my work.

Of course, please feel free to ask any follow up questions in this thread. I want to be sure that all of your questions are answered. In addition, once you issue your Positive Rating the question will lock open and you can come back to it anytime in the future if you think of something else.