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Can a law firm change the terms of a contract midstream through a case ?

Cleveland, OH |

My brother contracted a law firm (no retainer required or paid) for the wrongful death of his daughter. He possesses a copy of the contract, which states: 1) should he win in court, the firm receives a percentage of his award, but 2) should he chose not to proceed to trial, he must reimburse the law firm for cost of services rendered to date. The defendant is pressing for settlement due to recent unfavorable revelations. The contracted law firm has recently notified him that if he chooses not to settle, he must reimburse the law firm for services rendered to date & for future services. Is it legal for the contracted firm to take this position given that it opposes the initial contract? What avenues are available to secure justice legally? Settlement is not an option.

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer

It is 100% up to your brother whether or not he settles. The firm cannot change the terms of the fee agreement. It sounds like your brother no longer wishes to deal with the firm, and might be uncomfortable talking with them about their threatened change of terms. I agree with the other comments about talking to the firm about his concerns. However, if your brother is uncomfortable doing this or if he does not like the results of that conversation, I would recommend calling either the local bar or the Ohio Office of Disciplinary Counsel. They will be able to listen to your brother's concerns and help him address them. As far as your brother's case goes, he might end up having to hire another law firm. Good Luck.

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Whether your brother decides to settle or not is up to him, not the lawyer. But before you go off and attempt legal action against the firm, I would recommend talking to the lawyers first to better understand their position.

Best of luck!

Michael Lewis Eisner

Michael Lewis Eisner


It is impossible to give contractual advice without reviewing the full contract. Many firms include a clause that requires expenses to be advanced if the client acts against the lawyer's express advice. This is a rather unusually situation. You should also make sure your brother fully understands the risks and benefits of any settlement offer. He must act in the best interest of the entire wrongful death estate.


I agree with my colleague. It is your brother's right to settle and while the lawyer may WANT him to settle now rather than later (faster pay day with less potential work for the lawyer) he can't force him to do so. Now, have you read the contract with the lawyer? There may be some other out that you haven't seen. Your brother should contact the lawyer and ask why the change and what section of the fee agreement they are relying upon to get that result.

If the attorney just won't go forward, or your brother no longer has faith in the lawyer, he may want to contact the local bar association. Most have fee dispute assistance that might be able to help. Generally, people at the bar association are good people and it is unlikely that you should worry that they will side with the lawyer, just because he or she is a lawyer and so are they.

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