Legal Question in Credit and Debt Law in North Carolina

Can an attorney sue me for failing to pay him? I got an angry call today from an attorney who helped me with a case in december of 2012,he charged me 1000 dollars total and I had already paid him 500 in december, I had every intention to pay him and I do have the money, I just want to know if he can legally sue me even if he never gave me a due date for the total amount nor did he send a written notice/invoice. Anyhow, he called my cellphone today and told me that I was taking advantage of him and that he was going to sue me if I didn't pay him tomorrow. He raised his voice at me and acted as if I had been ignoring his calls or attempts to collect the money. There were never any previous attempts neither by call or written.

Asked on 1/31/13, 7:47 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

You did not pay your lawyer. Shame on you. Yes, of course he can sue you. Why would you think a lawyer cannot sue a client for the balance of the fee that is owed? The question you did not ask is whether he is likely to? The answer is maybe and maybe not. The lawyer has 3 years from the date the obligation was owed to sue you. However, the amount owed and time involved may not justify filing suit.

When a lawyer takes on a client, ALL of the money is due up front. The lawyer is not obligated to give you a "due date." I assume this was a criminal issue (could be wrong) but fees have to be paid before the attorney will do any work. The attorney may well have been nice and cut you some slack as it was Christmas and figured that you would pay the balance within a reasonable time. Reasonable time is not over 30 days later.

I can understand why the lawyer is peeved. And I think you are taking advantage of him. You got your services I presume. He is not obligated to act like a banker and make you an interest free loan that you can pay whenever you feel like it.

Maybe another lawyer has a different opinion, but really, what did you expect another lawyer to say? That its ok for you to not honor your obligations?

If I were you, I would do the right and decent thing and pay what you agreed to pay for the legal services that you received.

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Answered on 1/31/13, 10:33 pm

Jeff Rosner Rosner Law Firm P.A.

I don't know the facts of the case or your representation but lawyers do need to be upfront about their fees with their clients and the best practice is to have fee agreements in writing. Actually while the lawyer can sue you - there is a procedure he or she must follow first. Please go to the North Carolina Bar's website (the state bar and not the NC Bar Association) and look at Fee Dispute Resolution. The following is a posting directly from the website.

Fee Dispute Resolution

If you have a fee dispute with your lawyer, you may wish to participate in the State Bar's Fee Dispute Resolution Program, which is available to clients who dispute their legal fees. There is no fee to participate in this program. To participate in the program, you must submit your request for resolution of disputed fee within three years after the last time that your lawyer represented you. The program cannot accept a request for resolution of a disputed fee after the lawyer has filed a lawsuit to collect the legal fee. Additionally, the program does not have the authority to waive legal fees. You may obtain the fee dispute resolution petition here or by calling (919) 828-4620 and requesting the Attorney-Client Assistance Department.

Once you have filed your request, a copy of your petition and any accompanying materials will be sent to your lawyer for a response. Not all fee disputes are suitable for facilitation; that determination will be made after a review of all the materials submitted by the parties involved.

Following are some typical questions and answers regarding the Fee Dispute Resolution program.

Q: When is a lawyer required to participate in the State Bar's fee dispute resolution program?

The Revised Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer with a dispute with a client over a legal fee to notify the client of the North Carolina State Bar's program of fee dispute resolution at least 30 days prior to initiating a legal proceeding to collect the disputed fee.

Q: When is a legal fee in "dispute?"

A fee is in dispute if the client questions or objects to the amount billed. Also, if a client fails to pay the bill, it is assumed that the fee is disputed unless the client affirms the obligation in writing or verbally. If a client pays by a check that is subsequently returned for insufficient funds, it is assumed that the client has affirmed the obligation and the lawyer is not required to notify the client of the fee dispute resolution program.

Q: What are the notification requirements to a client relative to the fee dispute resolution program prior to initiating suit to collect a legal fee?

The client must be notified of the right to participate in the fee dispute resolution program at least 30 days before filing suit against the client to collect the fee.

Q: May a lawyer notify a client of the fee dispute resolution program even though she does not intend to sue the client to collect the fee?

Yes. Although a lawyer does not ultimately intend to sue a client to collect a fee if the client fails to pay, a lawyer may nevertheless seek the client's participation in the fee dispute resolution program in an effort to collect the fee or some portion thereof.

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Answered on 2/01/13, 6:26 am
Kenneth Love Ken Love Law

Yes, he can sue you. There is no "due date" on the payment unless you have a written agreement that says otherwise; the payment is due when services are rendered.

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Answered on 2/01/13, 6:34 am

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