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Is an Ohio attorney bound to a verbal fee agreement?

Bryan, OH |

Our family quoted a local attorney for what it would cost for a very serious charge (rape). The lawyer told us what his retainer would be (2,000) and then said if we went to trial it would cost between $4,000 to $6,000. Jury trial is still two months away and we've already reached six grand without the expert witnesses. We have not signed the fee agreement he keeps shoving in our face. My beleief is that he never thought we would actually go to trial, but regardless if he had told us it would cost double this we would've shopped around. Do we have any legal ground to stand on as far as the charges that continue to accrue when we were already given a grand total??

Attorney Answers 2


You should call the Ohio State Bar to ask if Ohio requires that its attorneys enter into written attorney fee agreements AT THE BEGINNING of the representation. If it is required, and this attorney did not get a fee agreement signed by you before performing thousands of dollars worth of work, you may have the basis for a complaint with the Ohio State Bar. This may give you the help of the Bar to pull this attorney back in line to honor the agreement with you.

Best wishes.

I am happy to give my "answer" to this question, but please understand that my posting does not mean that you have hired me as your lawyer. Even though I am a real lawyer with a current Nevada law license, I have given my input on this legal question for general information only.

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A verbal contract is a contract, but it's your word against the attorney's. The attorney may not actually disagree with the $4,000 to $6,000 quote he gave, but can always fall back on that just being an estimate.

Your case speaks volumes about the need to have fee agreements in writing, especially for complex cases. Reputable attorneys always have written fee agreements. The attorney could have also done a better job communicating, to let you know how the case was progressing, so he could have saved some of his time for the trial.

What I do in my practice is send out monthly statements to my clients, whether or not there is a balance due, so the client always knows where they stand with respect to their retainer. Client funds are always to be kept in a separate account, called an IOLTA account, until they are earned. It is a serious ethical violation for a lawyer to pay himself prematurely, then embellish his time to justify his claimed fee afterward.

It's too bad this happened to you, at a time when the rape charge alone was a family crisis. My only advice is to file a claim with your local bar association's fee arbitration committee. Or, if by now your trust in this attorney has completely evaporated, hire another lawyer to take over, only this time make sure the lawyer presents you with a written fee agreement, which includes the lawyer's promise to send out periodic statements of his time, so you always know where you stand with your money. Better yet, try to find a lawyer who will take the case on a flat fee, with it spelled out very clearly in the fee agreement that the flat fee includes a jury trial if necessary.

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