Q: My wife and I need to hire an attorney. Must we sign 2 separate contracts with the attorney?
This is about the roof of our house. We need an attorney to represent us. The attorney says that my wife and I must sign separate contacts with him, even though we have both signed the same limited power of attorney for him to represent us (which we have not yet given to him). We would prefer to sign one single contract with him to represent us rather than 2 separate contracts.
We have many contracts that we have signed as a couple: contract to buy the house, to purchase insurance, etc etc. We have never had anyone say that we must sign separate contracts. It makes me suspicious that he wants to charge us separately and thusly double his charges.
A: Either it's clear, in black and white, what the total fees and costs are, or it's not. If it's not, and the attorney refuses to make it clear in writing, go somewhere else. While it's unusual for a married couple sign separate contracts in your situation, it is allowable. Perhaps the attorney does it to avoid any confusion as to contract obligations in the event of divorce.
A: Signing two separate contracts is one thing, but sending two separate invoices is questionable. The Florida Bar recommends having multiple parties in the same dispute sign separate contracts with language advising each they are "jointly and severally" liable for the billing. This means if one party doesn't pay, the other party is responsible for the whole bill. Double billing is against the bar rules, while billing each party their fair share is allowed. Each attorney has their own contracts although the Florida Bar provides a recommended template. Each attorney, based on their experience customizes their contracts. Sometimes even the best clients suffer setbacks (death, divorce, disabilities, etc.) and cannot pay their attorney as much as they would like to honor their commitment.
It is not unreasonable to ask the attorney questions about the contract, why is he doing it this way, and, if you are not satisfied with the answers or are still suspicious, have another attorney review the contract for you or hire a different attorney. A reputable attorney will not be upset with your questions. Like you they have the option to not enter into the contract and neither party should if they are not comfortable with the arrangement. Getting a second opinion about the contract or any contract is a nominal fee to pay now versus regrets later.
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