Check Your Eligibility – Free if We Don’t Win

My lawyers check is way bigger than mine. Is this right?

justice and law concept

Unfortunately, we have seen many firms that completely disregard what the client wants and needs.   Because attorney fees come off of the top of a settlement, some firms will encourage you to run bills up dramatically to ensure that they get the highest possible return from their percentage of the insurance money.  However, this often leaves the client with a check that is only a fraction of the size of the attorney’s check.  

Of course, much of this goes back to client communication.  If you are not able to speak to your lawyer, how does he/she know your needs and expectations?  Even in cases where the emergent medical costs contained in a hospital lien exceed the amount of available insurance, at Lookout Law we work hard to negotiate with the hospital and have routinely gotten liens dropped or in the alternative an agreement to do a three-way split between the client, lawyer and hospital. 

Attorney fees are regulated by Rule 1.5 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which can be found here:  State Bar Handbook (


  • A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:
    • 1. the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
    • 2. the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
    • 3. the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
    • 4. the amount involved and the results obtained;
    • 5. the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
    • 6. the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
    • 7. the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and
    • 8. whether the fee is fixed or contingent.
  • The scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses for which the client will be responsible shall be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation, except when the lawyer will charge a regularly represented client on the same basis or rate. Any changes in the basis or rate of the fee or expenses shall also be communicated to the client.
    • A fee may be contingent on the outcome of the matter for which the service is rendered, except in a matter in which a contingent fee is prohibited by paragraph (d) or other law. A contingent fee agreement shall be in writing and shall state the method by which the fee is to be determined, including the percentage or percentages that shall accrue to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial or appeal, litigation and other expenses to be deducted from the recovery, and whether such expenses are to be deducted before or after the contingent fee is calculated.
    • Upon conclusion of a contingent fee matter, the lawyer shall provide the client with a written statement stating the following:
      • the outcome of the matter; and,
      • if there is a recovery showing:
        • a.the remittance to the client;
        • b.the method of its determination;
        • c.the amount of the attorney fee; and
        • d.if the attorney’s fee is divided with another lawyer who is not a partner in or an associate of the lawyer’s firm or law office, the amount of fee received by each and the manner in which the division is determined.
  • A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge, or collect:
    • any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of alimony or support, or property settlement in lieu thereof; or
    • a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case.
  • A division of a fee between lawyers who are not in the same firm may be made only if:
    • the division is in proportion to the services performed by each lawyer or, by written agreement with the client, each lawyer assumes joint responsibility for the representation;
    • the client is advised of the share that each lawyer is to receive and does not object to the participation of all the lawyers involved; and
    • the total fee is reasonable.

The maximum penalty for a violation of this rule is a public reprimand.

Reasonableness of Fee and Expenses

[1] Paragraph (a) requires that lawyers charge fees that are reasonable under the circumstances. The factors specified in (1) through (8) are not exclusive. Nor will each factor be relevant in each instance. Paragraph (a) also requires that expenses for which the client will be charged must be reasonable. A lawyer may seek reimbursement for the cost of services performed in-house, such as copying, or for other expenses incurred in-house, such as telephone charges, either by charging a reasonable amount to which the client has agreed in advance or by charging an amount that reasonably reflects the cost incurred by the lawyer.

[1A] A fee can also be unreasonable if it is illegal. Examples of illegal fees are those taken without required court approval, those that exceed the amount allowed by court order or statute, or those where acceptance of the fee would be unlawful, e.g., accepting controlled substances or sexual favors as payment.

Basis or Rate of Fee

[2] When the lawyer has regularly represented a client, they ordinarily will have evolved an understanding concerning the basis or rate of the fee. In a new client-lawyer relationship, however, an understanding as to the fee should be promptly established. It is not necessary to recite all the factors that underlie the basis of the fee, but only those that are directly involved in its computation. It is sufficient, for example, to state that the basic rate is an hourly charge or a fixed amount or an estimated amount, or to identify the factors that may be taken into account in finally fixing the fee. When developments occur during the representation that render an earlier estimate substantially inaccurate, a revised estimate should be provided to the client. A written statement concerning the fee reduces the possibility of misunderstanding. Furnishing the client with a simple memorandum or a copy of the lawyer’s customary fee schedule is sufficient if the basis or rate of the fee is set forth.

[3] Contingent fees, like any other fees, are subject to the reasonableness standard of paragraph (a) of this rule. In determining whether a particular contingent fee is reasonable, or whether it is reasonable to charge any form of contingent fee, a lawyer must consider the factors that are relevant under the circumstances.

Terms of Payment

[4] A lawyer may require advance payment of a fee, but is obliged to return any unearned portion. See Rule 1.16 (d). A lawyer may accept property in payment for services, such as an ownership interest in an enterprise, providing this does not involve acquisition of a proprietary interest in the cause of action or subject matter of the litigation contrary to Rule 1.8 (j). However, a fee paid in property instead of money may be subject to the requirements of Rule 1.8 (a) because such fees often have the essential qualities of a business transaction with the client.

[5] An agreement may not be made, the terms of which might induce the lawyer improperly to curtail services for the client or perform them in a way contrary to the client’s interest. For example, a lawyer should not enter into an agreement whereby services are to be provided only up to a stated amount when it is foreseeable that more extensive services probably will be required, unless the situation is adequately explained to the client. Otherwise, the client might have to bargain for further assistance in the midst of a proceeding or transaction. However, it is proper to define the extent of services in light of the client’s ability to pay. A lawyer should not exploit a fee arrangement based primarily on hourly charges by using wasteful procedures.

Prohibited Contingent Fees

[6] Paragraph (d) prohibits a lawyer from charging a contingent fee in a domestic relations matter when payment is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of alimony or support or property settlement to be obtained. This provision does not preclude a contract for a contingent fee for legal representation in connection with the recovery of post-judgment balances due under support, alimony or other financial orders because such contracts do not implicate the same policy concerns. See Formal Advisory Opinions 36 and 47.

Division of Fee

[7] A division of fee is a single billing to a client covering the fee of two or more lawyers who are not in the same firm. A division of fee facilitates association of more than one lawyer in a matter in which neither alone could serve the client as well. Joint responsibility for the representation entails financial and ethical responsibility for the representation.

[8] Paragraph (e) does not prohibit or regulate division of fees to be received in the future for work done when lawyers were previously associated in a law firm.

Disputes over Fees

[9] If a procedure has been established for resolution of fee disputes, such as an arbitration or mediation procedure established by the State Bar of Georgia, the lawyer should conscientiously consider submitting to it. Law may prescribe a procedure for determining a lawyer’s fee, for example, in representation of an executor or administrator, a class or a person entitled to a reasonable fee as part of the measure of damages. The lawyer entitled to such a fee and a lawyer representing another party concerned with the fee should comply with the prescribed procedure.

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