Phoenix, AZ asked in Civil Rights, Employment Discrimination and Gov & Administrative Law for New York

Q: Maximum lawyer fees for federal (government agency) discrimination ( title V) cases?

Is there a maximum amount or percentage a lawyer can charge for title V cases against a government agency settled at the EEOC level? I was told by a friend who practices family law out of State that the fees they can charge are capped similar to what disability lawyers can charge. Another piece of information, not sure if it matters, the lawyer was hired initially to take the case to trail, and the agreement was drawn under that premise. Lawyer later changed his mind and refuses to file a civil lawsuit as agreed.

Appreciate it if someone can shed some lights on this issue.

Thank you very much

1 Lawyer Answer
V. Jonas Urba
V. Jonas Urba
  • Employment Law Lawyer
  • New York, NY
  • Licensed in New York

A: Apparently, you may be situated in a state outside of New York. I limit my active practice to New York State. Each state enacts laws regarding ethical behavior and conduct of lawyers. Many adopt the model rules but there are exceptions.

In New York State lawyers fees are determined by the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the legal questions and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly. As an aside, although I do represent state and local government employees I would decline the representation of any federal employee. Those skills are beyond my comfort zone.

Most contingent fee matters on employment matters demand time and attention which precludes the lawyer's undertaking other work and there is always the risk of losing any case, even by the most skilled and experienced litigator.

In New York a one third contingent fee is common. Some firms will charge up to 40 percent when they front or advance the costs of litigation which are often subtracted either before or after the gross percentage is calculated. Every attorney fee agreement is unique. The terms of an attorney's representation agreement should be carefully reviewed to determine whether the actual fee is something which a client expressly agreed to and whether the fee is being calculated according to the terms which were agreed to.

The fee customarily charged for similar matters must be examined. In your particular case, you could always have proceeded pro se or substituted legal counsel. Of course, many of us are reluctant to substitute as counsel midstream, especially in litigation, and some of us would decline a federal employee's matter ab initio.

The time the attorney invested should be examined along with the results obtained. In most contingent fee matters there is always the chance of losing at trial. Did this lawyer need to step in at the 11th hour, or set aside other matters to resolve your matter?

Lawyers who have a long established relationship with a client are given more latitude in fees charged because each side knows or should know what to expect.

How experienced is your lawyer and what is their reputation and ability in performing the services which they perform. If they represent many employees similarly situated to you they either know or should know what is or is not permitted regarding fees charged.

Contingent fees must be in writing and should include the percentage to the lawyer in the event of settlement, trial or appeal and how expenses will be deducted from any recovery.

Either you or an attorney should carefully review the precise language of your retainer agreement with your lawyer or ask the lawyer to explain those terms to you. Some lawyers draft separate agreements for negotiation or settlement versus litigation although New York does not prohibit the combination of both. Communication is key. What did you and the lawyer discuss and more importantly agree to in writing.

Most local bar associations (i.e. city, county or state) have fee dispute panels of lawyers who help clients and their lawyers resolve fee disputes. The lawyers who serve on those committees often do so pro bono or for no fee. Those lawyers are usually willing to review fee agreements of other lawyers and to explain the particular circumstances of an agreement which you apparently entered into with your lawyer and hopefully address the specific concerns which you have in the event that the above fails to do so.

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