Are high attorney’s fees legal malpractice?

The short answer to the above question is no. If you think your California attorney charged you an excessively high attorney’s fee, this is not a matter for which you can file a legal malpractice suit.

What you need to understand, and what FindLaw explains, is that an attorney charges all but contingency fees based on a number of factors, including the following:

  • How difficult your case will be
  • How much time (s)he will need to spend on your case, including time for investigation and case preparation prior to trial
  • How much education, skill and background (s)he has in your type of case
  • How much research (s)he will need to do on any facts or situations unique to your case
  • How much overhead (s)he has, such as for office rent and equipment, salaries of his or her staff, Continuing Legal Education fees, etc.

Not surprisingly, different attorneys charge different fees for different kinds of cases. This is one of the things you should take into consideration before hiring one. At your initial meeting with any prospective attorney, you should thoroughly discuss his or her various fee structures and get an estimate of the time (s)he thinks your case will involve. Ideally, (s)he should then draft an employment contract for both of you to sign which lists what (s)he will do for you, how much (s)he will charge you for doing it, and when you will need to pay these legal fees.

Legal fee types

Most attorneys will charge you one of the following types of fees:

  • A flat fee to take and conclude your case; you will pay no additional attorney’s fees, regardless of how much time that may entail.
  • A retainer and hourly rate fee that will require you to pay an up-front retainer (down payment) that (s)he will place in his or her trust account and against which (s)he will draw down as (s)he earns it based on his or her time and the hourly rate (s)he charges. Once (s)he has earned the full retainer, you will then have to continue paying him or her the hourly fee until your case concludes.
  • A contingency fee that you will pay only if (s)he successfully concludes your case; contingency fees usually apply to personal injury cases. Actually, you will not personally pay this fee. (S)he will take it out of the settlement or jury award (s)he achieves for you, based on the percentage specified in your employment contract.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.