Fee disputes are increasingly common between clients and lawyers. Many such disputes are resolved informally by the lawyer “writing off” hourly time, reducing a contingent percentage, or absorbing some or all expenses. And some clients can be unreasonable in refusing to pay a lawyer for legitimate legal services and/or reimbursing the lawyer for legitimate expenses—even where the client insisted on the time and effort expended by the lawyer over the lawyer’s objection that the client’s imprudent demands would drive up costs and fees. Some fee disputes are not really about the fees, but are actually about the client’s dissatisfaction—reasonable or not—with the outcome, the client’s perceived treatment by the lawyer or the lawyer’s staff, or other factors that may not be within the lawyer’s control or influence.
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While it is not possible to avoid every possible client dispute over fees and expenses (unless the lawyer plans to surrender completely to unreasonable clients), there are some positive steps that can help lawyers and clients avoid the misunderstandings that lead to fee disputes, grievances, and litigation: