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Disputing attorneys' fees in New Jersey

Any New Jersey resident who has ever needed a lawyer knows that legal counsel comes at a cost. While lawyers' services can be expensive, it is important that people know there are laws that regulate attorneys' fees. In New Jersey, attorneys' fees must be reasonable and clients are entitled to a hearing on the reasonableness of the fees when necessary.

Sometimes, disputes occur when clients receive their legal bills, and because of a disagreement or another issue a client may refuse to pay the law office. One way that some attorneys in New Jersey attempt to coax their clients into paying legal fees is by keeping the client's paperwork, files and other property hostage. The State Bar Association thinks this is a reasonable way to enforce payment, but a New Jersey Supreme Court committee has recommended that this practice come to a halt.

The Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics recommended on Monday to add a rule that would state: "No lawyer shall asset a common law retaining lien." The court is now fielding public input on the rule until Jan. 31.

While it remains to be seen whether this lien practice will be prohibited, clients who would like to dispute attorney fees should recognize that simply failing to pay a legal bill will not make it go away. In fact, as with any type of bill, ignoring it may only lead to more expensive problems.

Instead, New Jersey residents may be wise to pursue an attorney fee claim. If a client's fee dispute has merit, it is possible to pursue fee arbitration or litigation. Fee disputes are complicated, and it is important to begin this process as soon as possible, before the fee claim matures.

Source: New Jersey Law Journal, "Ethics Committee Urges an End to Common-Law Liens on Client Files," Mary Pat Gallagher, Nov. 20, 2012

  • Our Essex County law firm defends against attorney fee claims and pursues attorney malpractice cases in New Jersey. More information about this process is available on our Attorney Fee Litigation page.

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