Roseville, CA asked in Contracts for California

Q: A Sacramento attorney has filed a judgment against me claiming I owe him $22,000 for services rendered in 2012.

I have repeatedly requested a full accounting of showing hours worked and what I am being billed for. The attorney has never sent to me either via email or USPS an accounting of the supposed hours he worked on my (divorce) case. I am at a quandary. We return to court in July where he is requesting a full report of my assets. I have none. No savings, home or tangible items. I do work full time. I believe this attorney is desperate for money and is using me to his advantage in an attempt to extract money from me that is not owed to him. How do I counter this? No billing statements, yet he claims I owe him $22,000. The attorney will not respond to my requests for a billing statment and when we return to court in July he expects to receive $22,000. Thank you.

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2 Lawyer Answers

A: There is more than just one issue here. However, you have omitted several important facts that impact your defense.

That said, I will tell you that--unless you have a written contract with your divorce lawyer that sets a cap on fees or otherwise lays out how the fees are earned and calculated--you are at serious disadvantage here. Why?

Because ALL judges will agree that every lawyer is entitled to receive some reasonable fee for their valuable time spent and other work done on all their cases. (Judges were lawyers once; remember?)

That fact changes this entire dispute from one of "if the lawyer should be paid" to "how much they should get paid."

Secondly, I strongly advise you NOT to try to defend yourself merely by saying "my lawyer never sent me a bill." No judge will listen to that excuse. And finally--believe it or not--lawyers do NOT like to sue their clients for fees--because it is not a pretty thing to do--especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. So, unless you want to end up owing your divorce lawyer even more fees than you do now, you should stop fighting and start negotiating some compromise--long before you July court date.

1 user found this answer helpful

Thomas A. Grossman
Thomas A. Grossman
  • Palm Springs, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: I don't know where you live, but most courts in Riverside County (where I live) require that an attorney must first must first mediate the issue of fees in a mediation or arbitration. If the County where you live follows this rule, then you should bring it up in Court if you haven't already done so. If the attorney cannot prove his time working on your case, or if he never signed a fee agreement with you, I think you have good cause to fight the matter. Attorneys that don't document their files have the obligation to prove the work that they did, with invoices

1 user found this answer helpful

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