Poor Marks for Fee Disputes Misses Point

Posted on November 30, 2007

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Poking fun at lawyers is almost as easy as poking fun at lawyer’s fees.   I have never come across anyone eager to pay.  The closest we come is the grudging reluctance of the client who parts with his funds as a necessary evil. Needless to say, fees are a constant source of tension between attorney and client, no matter how hard we try.

A recent article in the Birmingham News ("Group Scores State Poorly in Fee Disputes") gave Alabama poor marks for handling fee disputes.  The article cites a survey that HALT performed that gave Alabama a D and ranked it 34th in the state. I disagree with both the article and the survey.

First, the main reason cited was that Alabama required mediation and
did not go straight to arbitration.  I talked with Judy Keegan about
this, and I agree with her that mediation can be extremely beneficial.
Alabama has made a value choice that mediation as opposed to
arbitration is a better way to resolve disputes.  A quick mediation can
often save a lot of time and money. Done right, the forum gives people
a chance to vent, but provides a neutral that explains both parties
legal remedies.

More than that, however, the key point is that there is no focus on
prevention of these disputes.  While the inevitable dispute will occur,
the attorney – client relationship should never reach this point.  In
talking with Rita Gray at the bar, my impression was that there were
very few of these disputes that the bar handled.  That is good and that
is the main point.

Both the article and the survey did not focus on cutting these disputes
off well before they reach this point.  For attorneys, I believe this
means clearly communicating about fees and be open to complaints.  For
clients, it is a realization that when we talk, get advice, email or
phone an attorney, we are utilizing a law firms primary asset, and a
client needs to be ready, willing and able to pay for such time.

Mike Goodrich, Goodrich Law Firm, LLC

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