When you retain an attorney, whether for a family law or other legal matter, it is extremely important that you understand exactly how and when they attorney expects to get paid for his/her services. All attorneys should have clients sign a fee agreement which outlines their fee structure, including hourly rates for attorneys, paralegals and any legal assistants that may be working on the case. Most attorneys also require a retainer, which is a sum of money paid at the very beginning, when the attorney is retained, and will bill off that retainer at the respective hourly rate until it runs out, at which point some attorneys will require an additional large sum from which to bill while others may choose to send a monthly bill for work already completed. The most important thing is to make sure you understand exactly how billing will work on your case so you know what to expect and plan for as your case proceeds. While many attorneys will give you an estimate regarding the total they expect your case will cost, remember this is just an estimate and can change based upon many factors, including how cooperative the other party/attorney is.
Sometimes, no matter how clear the fee agreement is, clients refuse to pay once a case has ended. Even other lawyers are guilty of this. For example, Ray Rafool, a divorce lawyer in the Miami area, represented another attorney, Alex Martinez, in his heavily contested divorce case. Celebrity divorce lawyer says attorney didn’t pay his own fees, by Jose Lambiet, miamiherald.com, June 7, 2017. Martinez apparently still owes Rafool over $22,000 from his 2010 divorce case and subsequent custody and child support cases. According to court documents, Martinez has a gross business income close to $300,000 so he cannot claim that he does not have the funds to pay. Nonetheless, he has been nonresponsive to Rafool’s requests for payment which has forced Rafool to take him to court.
Perhaps Martinez is unhappy with Rafool’s work on his case and that is the reason for his nonpayment. However, this is not an excuse. According to Rafool, “We’re not in the business of suing clients and colleagues, but we did the work and expect to be paid. He understands our business better than anybody.” Rafool’s comment is likely similar to how most attorneys would handle a client’s nonpayment. Attorney’s do not like suing their clients, and will attempt to work with a client to get the payment prior to taking them to court. But, as Rafool remarked, if an attorney does the work on your case and, thereby, fulfills their end of the contract, they deserve to get paid, and a court will see it the same way.