Whether a legal fee is excessive will generally depend on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. Under the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer may not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses.

Generally this means that a fee is reasonable unless it is clearly excessive. However, the ABA Rules are merely illustrative and are not binding. Each state has adopted their own set of rules (usually modeled on the ABA) for when a legal fee is excessive. For example:

  • In California, a lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge or collect an illegal or unconscionable fee.
  • In Florida, a lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge, or collect an illegal, prohibited, or clearly excessive fee or cost.
  • In Illinois, a lawyer’s fee must be reasonable.
  • In New York, a lawyer shall not enter into an agreement for, charge or collect an illegal or excessive fee.
  • In Texas, a fee is unconscionable if a competent lawyer could not form a reasonable belief that the fee is reasonable.

What Are Some Factors in Determining the Reasonableness of a Legal Fee?

To make a determination of whether a legal fee is excessive, there are a number of factors that should be considered, including:

  • The amount of the legal fee in proportion to the value of the services performed;
  • The time and labor required;
  • The novelty and difficulty of the case, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
  • The likelihood the representation will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
  • The legal fee customarily charged in the locality for legal services of a comparable or similar nature;
  • The total fee amount involved and the results obtained;
  • Any time limitations, either imposed by the client or the circumstances of the representation;
  • The nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;
  • The lawyer’s experience, reputation, and ability;
  • The type of legal fee (fixed or contingent); and
  • The informed consent of the client to the legal fee.

The scope of the representation and the basis or rate of the fee and expenses should be communicated to the client, preferably in writing, before or within a reasonable time after the representation has begun. If the client is regularly represented by the lawyer on the same basis or rate, the lawyer need only communicate any changes in the basis or rate of the fee. In some states, when the parties have a written contract in which the fees and costs are clearly established, the fees and costs charged thereunder shall be presumed reasonable.

What Can I Do If My Legal Fees Seem Excessive?

If you feel that your attorney has charged you an excessive fee for your legal services, you may want to contact an experienced malpractice attorney who can help you to recover the unreasonable cost.