What if I Can’t Pay My Lawyer?


First and Last--Discuss!

Discuss this with your lawyer. Most lawyers prefer to resolve fee problems with their clients as the problems arise. After all, they will only get worse if they are not addressed.  Your lawyer may, at this point in the relationship, ask for security for payment, a promissory note, or a regular payment schedule. You might be able to borrow from friends, family or an institutional lender. There are many ways to handle a divorce. If you have instructed your lawyer to do everything possible on your behalf, you might rethink the cost of your strategy. If you revise your instructions so that your lawyer does only those things essential to your proper representation, your fees and costs may be less. If you can't resolve the problem after talking to your lawyer, here is what might happen.


Your lawyer might withdraw from your case.  


Some states allow a lawyer to have a lien against your property or files until the fees have been paid. Even the states that allow liens have strict rules about how they can be enforced. Before you find yourself in this situation, you should ask your lawyer to explain the rules and procedures to you. You might also want to consult another lawyer about your rights and responsibilities as to such liens. Most states require lawyers to turn over all of the client's papers to the client when withdrawing from a case.


If you and your lawyer can't resolve a fee dispute, you might agree to take the dispute to a mediator. A mediator is a person who meets with both of you and tries to help you work out a settlement, usually by reaching a compromise.



Arbitration is presenting your case to someone other than a judge who has power to decide the case. An arbitration award can be made into a court judgment and enforced. Your written agreement with your lawyer may contain an agreement to arbitrate any fee disputes. Some states provide you the right to arbitrate even if it's not in your fee agreement. Arbitration can be faster, simpler and cheaper than litigation in court. 


If you do not pay the fees you have agreed to pay, the lawyer has a right to sue you for the unpaid fees. In that event, the dispute will be decided by a judge or jury. Many lawyers will only sue a former client as a last resort.




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