Attorney Fees: Getting the Other Side to Pay

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Does the Losing Side Pay Attorney's Fees?

In the United States, each party to a lawsuit generally pays his or her own legal costs. However, there are some instances where the winning party receives compensation for attorney’s fees from the losing party.

Breach of Contract

Some contracts specify that anyone who breaches the contract will be liable for paying attorney’s fees. This is an extra form of punishment for someone who breaches an agreement.


Sometimes a statute (i.e. a law created by the legislature) specifically allows a judge to award attorney fees to the winning party. There are statutes in a number of legal areas that grant the judge this authority, such as family law, environmental law, and civil rights law.

Civil rights statutes, such as those addressing employment discrimination, include fee-shifting provisions. Winning attorneys are deemed "private attorney generals" who enforce the rights of the public, and thus deserve payment of their fees. 

Family Law

In family law, the judge is permitted to consider a number of factors in awarding attorney fees. The main consideration is whether one party is significantly more financially stable than the other. Other factors include: any willful or malicious conduct, the reasonableness of the claims and defenses, the extent to which an award of fees would deter others from making meritless claims, and the reasonableness of the parties throughout the litigation process. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are the money awarded as punishment for particularly malicious, fraudulent, or egregious behavior. Sometimes attorney’s fees will be awarded as part of punitive damages.

In setting the actual amount of attorney fees, the court can consider: the time and labor of the attorney, the novelty and difficulty of questions presented, the customary fees of attorneys with similar experience and reputation, and the result obtained. 

Should I Consult an Attorney?

If you think you have a legal case against someone, you should speak with a qualified attorney who has experience handling similar issues. When you consult with an attorney, do not hesitate to ask about the legal fees you may be required to pay.

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Last Modified: 05-05-2015 10:25 AM PDT

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