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How do I file a charge against a lawyer for overbilling and non-representation?

Austin, TX |

During 7 months of divorce proceedings, my lawyer and fees ate up a huge part of my retainer. During the process and after issuance of the temporary orders, I requested that my lawyer file a motion to modify the temporary orders. This request was made based on things learned during discovery and my wanting standard visitation established. She never did what I requested and stated this would happen during the final divorce decree. I had to go to mediation and it was not successful. Before mediation, I began questioning my lawyer and her billing practices. She became defensive. I realize that divorce can be expensive; but we had no real assets to divide; only a Ford Expedition. I'm concerned that my lawyer overbilled me and didn't represent my best interests.

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Attorney answers 1


I suggest that you carefully read the fee contract you signed when you hired your lawyer. Then you should sit down with her and have a calm and courteous but frank discussion about this issue. Give her a chance to explain what she charged you for and why the work was necessary. For most people, a divorce is their first brush with the legal system and their first experience with paying for legal services. Sticker shock in this situation is extremely common. Lawyers cheating or overreaching their clients is uncommon, but it does happen.

If, after speaking candidly with your lawyer, you are not satisfied, I suggest you contact the Austin Bar Association, assuming your lawyer is a member of it. They probably have a fee dispute resolution mechanism in place that you can use at no cost. Of course, this mechanism is purely voluntary. ABA has no power or authority to order your lawyer to refund fees, nor, in fact, do anything at all. Only a court has that kind of power.

Of course, complaining to the State Bar of Texas is always an option. Keep in mind, however, that unless your lawyer has committed outright fraud, her ethical duty in this kind of case is only to avoid charging an "unconscionable" fee. "Unconscionable" is not synonymous with "large," or even "unreasonable." Finally, SBOT has the authority to sanction your lawyer on a finding of unethical conduct, but not to award you any money. Again, only a court has that authority.

Good luck.