Attorneys Entitled to Fees Despite Allegations of Rate Increases and Estimate Overruns

In August, the Connecticut Superior Court held that a law firm accused of failing to notify its litigation clients of rate increases and estimate overruns may still recover its legal fees. The law firm represented two clients who wanted their brother removed as executor of their father’s estate. During the course of the representation, the firm increased its hourly billing rate. After the clients complained about the difference in the rates from the initial retainer agreement, the clients and the firm reached an agreement to adjust the hourly billing rates.

Over the course of the matter, the firm provided fee estimates of future work as the clients fell behind on their invoice payments. The attorney-client relationship concluded when the clients terminated the firm’s representation with an overdue balance of over $184,000. When the firm commenced an action to collect their legal fees, the clients argued that the firm’s fees were unreasonable because the actual fees exceeded the fee estimates. Additionally, the clients argued that the firm should not be allowed to recover its fees because the firm violated Rule 1.5 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Ultimately, the court found that the estimates that the firm provided were not contractual agreements to limit the fees. The fees charged were reasonable under the relevant circumstances. Additionally, the court concluded that the firm did not violate Rule 1.5 because the version of the rule that the clients were relying on came into effect over three years after the firm’s representation of the clients ceased. Moreover, after the clients learned of the increase in fees, they reached an agreement with the firm thereby waiving their right to allege a violation of the rules. The court noted that even if there was a violation of Rule 1.5, it does not “create a presumption that a legal duty has been breached or that the attorney is precluded from collecting otherwise payable fees and disbursements.”

For more information, read the Opinion here.

 

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