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Should I look for a different attorney?

Los Angeles, CA |

I am looking to hire a business attorney for a legal issue. Today I met with a lawyer and he said that if the case goes into litigation, it could end up costing me 40 to 50k. I don't know if he is overcharging me for my issue. Since I will be the defendant, I don't want to be put at a disadvantage by paying legal fees which outrageously exceed the plaintiff's. When I asked why it could cost that much, he explained that since this is a "he said/she said" case, depositions and other costs could run really high.

Should I looking for a different attorney or stay with this one? If this matters - it is a law firm with 10 members total and they specialize in business law. The plaintiff's attorney is an employment/personal injury lawyer.

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Attorney answers 6

Posted

It's really impossible for anyone on this forum to gauge your situation, and therefore whether the fee estimate you've been given is reasonable, without knowing the specific facts of your case.

But I can tell you one thing: litigation is frequently unpleasant, and almost invariably costly. In order to properly defend you, your attorney must spend hours reviewing your circumstances, marshaling evidence, researching the law, drafting documents, and appearing in court. All the while, the plaintiff's attorney will actively seek to undo every bit of progress you make, and oppose you at every turn. This all contributes to the many hours your attorney will work on your behalf (and the attorneys' fees you'll incur). And we haven't even begun to talk about court costs and other fees (such as filing fees and court reporter fees for depositions).

So is the quote you've been given reasonable? The short answer: it depends. It depends on the facts of your case. It depends on how combative the plaintiff is. It depends on both parties' willingness to settle. It depends on your attorney's hourly rate. It depends on how far along the case gets before settling (if it settles at all). $50K to get you through trial could be reasonable or outrageous---it all depends on the foregoing factors, and more.

After that long-winded answer, some practical advice: if you're not comfortable with what you've been quoted, I'd encourage you to consult with more attorneys. This is an important decision, so shop around. Conduct a "beauty pageant" and see who you like best, and who will give you the best combination of perceived expertise vs. cost. And then make your informed decision.

Best of luck to you.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, and should not be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author, and Pham Law Group does not represent you as your attorneys until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both parties.

Asker

Posted

Thank you very much for the detailed answer. If you do not mind answering a followup question. I know these questions are hard to answer since you do not know my situation. Will the plaintiff usually be paying similar fees? My fear is that the opposing lawyer might be able to prepare for the same case very cost efficiently. This could put me at a disadvantage since I could be spending 3 times the money he is spending for the same case.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

Mr. Pham, your answer was brilliantly comprehensive.

Jeff Hoang Pham

Jeff Hoang Pham

Posted

To asker: Ms. McCall's response addresses your follow-up question perfectly. Please refer to it, as I completely agree.

Jeff Hoang Pham

Jeff Hoang Pham

Posted

Thanks very much for the kind words, Ms. McCall.

Posted

How much are you arguing over? What's the potential downside exposure?

Now, as objectively as you can think about it, how do you think the "he said/she said" would play out to 12 average and perhaps not terribly bright people drawn at random from your community (and who can't beg off with better things to do than be on a jury...lots of older, retired, unemployed, poorly educated people, perhaps? Where it's a crapshoot which side they choose.

(Sorry if I have offended anyone's naive civics class sensibilities, but you can assume that you might end up with a jury hearing all of this "he said/she said" who are not interested in the dispute, bored and just want the whole thing to get over and get back home....or, worse, actually think $40/day is a windfall and a boon).

The think about how much you want to spend or not spend on attorneys...or the possibilities of settlement, even if you think you are "right".

This answer is provided under the Avvo.com “Terms and Conditions of Use” (“ToU”), particularly ¶9 which states that any information provided is not intended as legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship between you and me or any other attorney. Such information is intended for general informational purposes only and should be used only as a starting point for addressing your legal issues. In particular, my answers and those of others are not a substitute for an in-person or telephone consultation with an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction about your specific legal issue, and you should not rely solely upon Legal Information you obtain from this website or other resources which may be linked to an answer for informational purposes. You understand that questions and answers or other postings to the Site are not confidential and are not subject to attorney-client privilege. The full Avvo ToU are set forth at http://www.avvo.com/support/terms . In addition, while similar legal principles often apply in many states, I am only licensed to practice in the State of New York and Federal Courts. Any general information I provide about non-New York laws should be checked with an attorney licensed to practice in your State. Lastly, New York State Court rules (22 NYCRR Part 1200, Rule 7.1) also require me to inform you that my answers and attorney profile posted on the Avvo.com site may be considered "attorney advertising" and that "prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome".

Asker

Posted

Thank you for your honest response. The issue here is that I am willing to settle with my former business partner for a very fair amount. He originally paid $88,000 for his share in the business, which was a verbal agreement. I am offering him $49,000, which is honestly what the shares are worth today. We both lost money in this business, but he wants me to take all the hit. I need to be ready if he wants to go to trial. I chose the wrong words in my initial post, I would rather settle than waste money in a extended trial. The question I wanted to ask is - does 40-50k sound normal for a trial? I don't know how much it will cost him. I don't want to put at a disadvantage if it costs me far more.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

If you are the defendant, you can just let the other guy push the rock up the hill while you do minimal efforts just monkeywrenching, throwing sand into the gears and delaying. It's much more difficult and expensive to be a plaintiff for money damages than a defendant. Make him fight the long bloody war while you let him outspend you and hemmorage money. You should find a lawyer that appreciates this strategy and just lets the other side do all the work. And perhaps throws a lot of tedious discovery at them. But part of your strategy should be to spend as little as possible. Find a lawyer who understands and appreciates that. You're not trying to win, just not to lose.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

Asker, are you saying he would settle for a return of his 88? Lots of attorneys would conclude that a difference of $38,000 is not enough to justify the costs of litigation. Lots of Superior court judges would agree. Asker, consider some alternative dispute resolution processes. Spending 50 grand to avoid paying 38 only makes sense if ... if ... well, hardly ever. It is particularly hard to justify if there is any reasonable potential that you will lose and be on the hook for the 88 or more plus your defense fees. Old saying: the worst settlement is better than the best lawsuit. People who have been on both ends of the stick swear by this proverb.

Asker

Posted

Very solid advice. I will take what both of you said into consideration when I meet with my lawyer. I will see how he wants to handle this.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

True that, Christine...good advice!

Posted

Why don't you run your case by another attorney to see how the quote compares? Just beware of the attorney who really minimizes the fees just to get you in the door. It can't hurt to shop around a little unless you are in a time crunch. There are many business attorneys here on AVVO. Use the Find A Lawyer tab to search for an attorney. Good luck!

I am licensed in California only and my answers on Avvo assume California law. The above answer is for general information only and is based on the information you posted. Every case is fact dependent, so to get a thorough analysis of your situation, you will need to consult face to face with an attorney licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the incident took place. Do not conclusively rely on any information posted online when deciding what to do about your case. No attorney-client relationship shall be created through the use reading of this response on Avvo. You should never delay seeking legal advice, disregard legal advice, or commence or discontinue any legal action because of information in this response.

Posted

In all likelihood, the plaintiff's attorney will be working on contingency -- i.e., a percentage share of the recovery in the case, if any. Plaintiffs and defendants are not similarly situated with respect to their legal fees because plaintiffs can potentially recover a monetary reward while defendants are more typically at risk for paying out money. It is common for the plaintiff's attorney to make a contract for representation on contingency where the plaintiff owes nothing unless the case succeeds. That arrangement is not available to defendants. You can't let this difference in situation bother you because you cannot affect or equalize it.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

That's an interesting point, and the asker should inquire of his attorney. I'm not sure how things work in SoCal, but around here, most business owner disputes like small corporate dissolution or debts are not taken by plaintiff's attorneys on a contingency basis that they get paid only if there's a recovery and they're essentially betting on a positive outcome of the matter for the plaintiff. Here that's pretty much restricted to personal injury cases in a non-employment situation, mostly motor vehicle related (with some exceptions such as construction contracting where scaffolding or ladders are involved). Most business-related lawsuit representation is both sides pay cash on the barrelhead on an hourly basis for representation, and the "american rule" (no fee shifting or "loser pays") prevails.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

I won't say the usual practices re business cases here in CA are different than what you describe. But the poster says that the plaintiff's attorney practices employment and personal injury -- not business litigation -- and both of these kinds of cases are very commonly handled as contingency matters. So I am leaping to the assumption that plaintiff here has purposely shopped for contingency counsel.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

Yes, I saw that on the second or third readthrough and it's what set the bells off in my head! This guy really should IMHO find an attorney who does business litigation, not personal injury! I was in many such business firms and learned from my wise senior partners that litigation was generally to be avoided, the catchphrase advise to the clients being "only the attorneys win". :-)

Posted

I agree with each of my colleagues answers. I write only to mention that, without knowing something about your case, any estimate of the cost to defend against it is worthless. Litigation can be very expensive both emotionally and financially and certainly can exceed the estimate given you by the attorney you have consulted.

Better questions to ask a prospective attorney are: How will you defend me? What are my potential defenses? Do I have any causes of action against the plaintiff? What is my potential exposure? Can we mediate this dispute before legal fees and costs get out of hand? Will I be able to recoup reasonable attorney fees if I prevail? How will my case be staffed? When multiple attorneys work on my case, how will I be charged?

Clients are usually happiest when litigation is resolved sooner than later – so, irrespective of how much an attorney charges per hour or any estimate as to ultimate fee – you should know your attorney’s plan to get you out from under the lawsuit as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. Frequently, this will require a payment from you to the plaintiff sufficiently large enough for plaintiff to settle the suit. If you are unwilling to make that payment you cannot, in my opinion, complain later about the ultimate cost of the litigation.

Should you look for a different attorney? Certainly not merely because of the estimate of litigation costs unless you cannot pay them. If you cannot pay them, then you do need to look elsewhere. Good luck.

I am licensed in California only and my answers on Avvo assume California law. Answers provided by me are for general information only. They are not legal advice. Answers must not be relied upon. Legal advice must be based on the interplay between specific exact facts and the law. This forum does not allow for the discussion of that interplay. My answer to any specific question would likely be different if that interplay were explored during an attorney-client relationship. I provide legal advice during the course of an attorney-client relationship only. The exchange of information through this forum does not establish such a relationship. That relationship is established only by personal and direct consultation with me followed by the execution of a written attorney-client agreement signed by each of us. The communications on this website are not privileged or confidential and I assume no duty to anyone by my participation on Avvo or because I have answered or commented on a question. All legal proceedings involve deadlines and time limiting statutes. So that legal rights are not lost for failure to timely take appropriate action and because I do not provide legal advice in answer to any question, if you are an interested party you should promptly and personally consult with an attorney for legal advice. Also, see Avvo's terms and conditions of use, specifically item 9, incorporated by this reference

Asker

Posted

I strongly agree with you. Hopefully the plaintiff is looking to settle also. My goal is avoid litigation and that is what I will stress to my attorney.

Michael Raymond Daymude

Michael Raymond Daymude

Posted

Each party will be $s ahead if you can agree on a mechanism to settle your dispute quickly and cheaply. Mediation is good for business disputes. Arbitration is also a good alternative. If you do not have an agreement that provides for attorneys fees do not request them in arbitration. You might wind up paying the other party’s fees even without a written agreement. Given your numbers any advantage litigation might have in terms of $s will be quickly eaten away by litigation costs. The expense of time -- the time away from growing your business – should also be a strong consideration. Good luck.

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

Excellent advice from Mr. Daymunde as well!

Posted

I am hesitant to jump in here, as you have received so many good answers. I should note, as you stated, the initial atty you have spoken with says "it MAY" cost that much. He is NOT charging you that much, but letting you know the possibilities. I'm not exactly sure why a "he said, she said" deposition would be a whole lot more money. That makes little sense to me. A "he said, she said" case I CAN see being a lot more money. Regardless, you should speak with at least one or two more attorneys before deciding who to go with and see if anyone will CAP their rates at a certain amount or take a percentage of an amount they save you from paying out? Good luck.

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