Can a client recover previously paid fees and costs paid to a lawyer if found to be improperly billed? The answer is an unqualified “yes!”
It makes no difference whether a client has paid some of all of the fees and costs. The ethics of the profession clearly provide that at the termination of the representation, the lawyer must return any “fee advances” or fees that were not earned. And payments of improper fees are seen as “fee advances.” See RPC 1.16(d)(Upon termination of the relationship, lawyer obligated to return any fee advances). See Restatement (Third) The Law Governing Lawyers, Sec. 38(3)(c)(stating that overpayments of fees are, in effect, fee advances). Also note that lawyers who do not return overpayments may be subject to lawyer discipline. See In re Guste (La. 12/4/2012) ___ So. 2d ___ (two year suspension for failure to return excessive fee).
Thus if a lawyer is shown to have overbilled a client, the lawyer is under an ethical obligation to return the amount of overbilled fees and costs to the client.
Think you have you been overbilled for legal services or don’t know for sure? Take advantage of our FREE evaluation service for legal bills totaling $15,000. Go to “Request an Evaluation” page and follow the instructions to upload your legal bills for a FREE evaluation.