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Lawyer never provided a billing agreement. What do I do? Legal Malpractice

Discussion in 'Professional, Medical Malpractice' started by Antonio Hinton, Sep 1, 2020.

  1. Antonio Hinton

    Antonio Hinton Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    Rhode Island
    I'm posting this on behalf of a friend.

    Basically, my friend has been concerned about how much her lawyer was charging her for his services while managing her estate fund, which later became her trust fund. The management was passed to him from her old lawyer, who died before she came of age. She signed various documents, likely not taking enough care while doing so, and seems never to have received a billing agreement or other document detailing what she'd be charged for and how.

    All charges were taken directly from her fund, not billed to her, and although she was given a billing history at the end, she hasn't got anything to compare it to in order to verify that everything was done properly. While looking into what her options were, I found that she might have been entitled to a billing agreement per the rules of conduct in RI (see section A of page 122 of the attached PDF), but now she's worried that the lawyer might bill her for sending her the copy, like he charged for other documents--a $500 cost that she wasn't expecting and wasn't told she would have to pay.

    I have two questions. One: after having terminated a months- or years-long association with his client without sending this agreement at any point, has he broken the code of ethics? Two: under the circumstances I've laid out, is he entitled to payment for providing the agreement?

    If you need any clarification on this or extra detail, feel free to ask. Thanks for looking this over, and thanks again in advance for any replies.
     

    Attached Files:

  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    He performed, he billed, he got paid, he provided an itemization of charges.

    What do you, or she, think that a billing "agreement" would say other than that?

    If there is an obvious overcharge she can file a fee dispute with the appropriate regulatory agency. If there isn't, then I suggest you tell her to let it go and move on.
     
  3. Antonio Hinton

    Antonio Hinton Law Topic Starter New Member

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    That does help lay it out, but when I say 'billing agreement', I'm talking about a framework by which she could evaluate the charges. A formula or set of formulae, if you like, where if you know the time spent on the task, the charge rate and any extra charges based on circumstances, you can calculate how much a given task will cost. She never got anything like that, and some of the charges *are* concerning to her, but she can't see if they were overcharges without knowing how she was billed. So, should she have gotten this formula already, and can she be charged now for requesting it?

    Does that make more sense? Sorry I wasn't very clear in my first post.
     
  4. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure what the highlighted portion means. What document(s) do you suppose might exist that would allow for comparison with the lawyer's billing history for the purpose of "verify[ing] that everything was done properly."

    Also, you described this lawyer as an someone who was initially "managing her estate fund, which later became her trust fund." What does that mean? Why was a lawyer (as opposed to, e.g., a financial manager) managing an estate/trust fund? Was the lawyer the executors/administrator of an estate who became trustee of a trust?

    Who hired the lawyer? Your friend or someone else? Sounds like maybe the person who established the fund might have hired the lawyer.

    I can't answer the first question without answers to the questions I asked (and maybe others). The answer to the second question is that the attorney is likely entitled to bill for all time spent dealing with the matter for which he was hired.

    Ummm...have you ever seen a lawyer's retainer agreement? A "billing history" and a "billing agreement" wouldn't have any of the same things except for the hourly rate.

    Attorney retainer agreements will typically say that the lawyer gets paid either (1) a percentage of any recovery or (2) $X per hour or (3) a flat $X for the representation. The first obviously wouldn't make sense in the context of the representation you described, and the third is typically only used for criminal defense and simple bankruptcy, so it's likely that the agreement states that the lawyer is entitled to be paid his hourly rate for whatever time he spends on the matter. While the concept of task-based billing (e.g., $500 for filing a complaint or $400 for writing a motion) is not unheard of, it's extremely rare and is only likely to exist in situations involving cookie-cutter type representations (e.g., my old firm used to use it for a client for whom we did numerous motions for relief from stay in bankruptcy cases).

    What does the bill say? It should say how much time the lawyer spent on the task, the lawyer's hourly rate, the product of the rate times the time spent, and a description of the task performed.
     
  5. Zigner

    Zigner Well-Known Member

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    I suspect that there is some sort of agreement in place that was signed when the trust was established. She was a minor, so she wouldn't necessarily have been privy to that.
     
  6. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    Below you will find what your state calls: "ARTICLE V. RULES OF PROFESSIONAL CONDUCT PREAMBLE AND SCOPE PREAMBLE: A LAWYER'S RESPONSIBILITIES"

    https://www.courts.ri.gov/PublicResources/disciplinaryboard/PDF/Article5.pdf


    Below you will also find your state's "Rhode Island Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct":

    https://www.ribar.com/UserFiles/Rhode Island Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct .pdf

    More on Ethics in RI "R.I. Sup. Ct. R. 9 app I" :

    Appendix I - Standards for Professional Conduct within the Rhode Island Judicial System., R.I. Sup. Ct. R. 9 app I | Casetext Search + Citator


    It might be informative for you to read the information in order to obtain a better understanding of what lawyers are required to do ethically in your state.

    A dissatisfied client should initially attempt to discuss whatever troubles the client with the attorney in an effort to resolve any concerns.

    If an accord can't be reached, a complaint can then be filed with the state's regulatory agency.

    Any additional questions might best be posed to your state's bar regulatory agency as in:

    disciplinaryboard
     

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