Q: If a lawyer signs a contract for a flat fee can they start charging you hourly and threaten to drop you if you don’t pay
In general, a lawyer is obligated to honor the terms of his contract. If he/she says he is going to charge you a flat fee (for example, to prepare and file a lien affidavit or to draft a will), he/she cannot come back later and charge you an hourly fee for the same work covered by the flat fee contract.
On the other hand, if the scope of work changes (for example, filing suit on the filed lien affidavit or probating a will), it is common for additional work to be performed at an hourly rate.
Since you categorize your question as “civil litigation,” be aware that it is extraordinary for any lawyer to represent a client in civil litigation on a flat fee basis. Most work on an hourly fee and require the deposit of an initial retainer. Some client mistake an initial retainer for a flat fee.
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