Is it legal for an attorney to charge me if I never signed a retainer? 6 Answers as of June 23, 2011

I paid a lawyer an amount under $400 for a traffic violation. I provided my credit card but did not sign the retainer forms. I was not told of any cancellation fees or fees for work performed. I eventually came to my senses that I did not need his services. I cancelled the lawyer's services one week after payment and he charged me $100. Essentially, 25% of the cost for 0.01% of the work (he told me it would take over 1.5 year to complete the case). An excessive charge. He claims he had to do paperwork (paralegal typed my name in a pre-filled word doc and emailed it to me) and search for the summons on DMV servers. I contacted my credit card company and filed a complaint with the NYS Better Business Bureau. He claims that NYS does not require a retainer under $3000 so he was allowed to proceed with work. Regardless, he didn't tell me of cancellation policy. Is this legal and what can I do?

Ask a Local Attorney. 100% Anonymous. Free Answers.

Free Case Evaluation by a Local Lawyer: Click here
Law Offices of John Carney
Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
Your summary states that you retained an attorney to handle a "traffic violation'. It would be helpful to know what traffic violation you were charged with but assuming it was speeding or some other moving violation, you were facing an increase in your insurance, points on your license, and a possible loss of your license if you have points already. You paid him $400 to handle the case and changed your mind and asked for your money back. He worked n the case for a week and only kept $100 and sent you a refund of $300. You filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and want to know if he was required to give you a retainer agreement. In New York an attorney needs a signed retainer agreement for fees over $3,000, as he told you. He is entitled to the fee for his services rendered which is usually based on $200 to $300 per hour. In taking your case he had to make a file, talk to you for a half hour, check your record and possibly perform other services prior to his appearance. You state that you "came to your senses and decided that you did not need his services'. It is more likely that you listened to someone tell you that you did not need an attorney for a traffic case, but either way he was very nice to you by returning the $300, and was entitled to the $100 that he kept. On top of that you hurt his business and reputation by reporting him to the Better Business Bureau which can cost him thousands in fees from perspective clients who read the rantings and blogs of people like you who are completely ignorant of their rights and what is appropriate. You are lucky that he was kind enough to return the $300 and you should not have been petty and vindictive and try to ruin his good name and reputation. You seem very immature and know nothing of your rights or obligations. You probably would have been better off having an attorney handle the traffic case and getting the matter dismissed. Attorneys have to deal with people like you every day and it makes the practice of law very difficult. If you have any sense of what is right ans fair you will call the Better Business Bureau and withdraw your complaint and the n call the attorney and apologize for your behavior. I doubt that you are man enough to take my advice or see that what you have done was wrong,but you are the one who has acted inappropriately and you should accept that fact and learn from the experience.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/23/2011
Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
In general it is correct that for amounts under $3000 no written retainer agreement is required. However an attorney is entitled to a reasonable fee for any work performed prior to his discharge by the client. Since you feel that he charged too much you can complain to the Bar Association of the County where he has his office or where you reside and they will investigate the matter and if needed they will have an arbitration hearing to determine the fee amount or refund amount.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/23/2011
Law Office of Jared Altman
Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
You initially hired him. Then you changed you mind and fired him. He is entitled to be compensated for whatever services and expenses he incurred up until the point that he was fired. Your retainer did not have to be in writing.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/23/2011
Palumbo and Kosofsky
Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
A contract, even a contract to retain an attorney, can be oral. There is nothing required by law to have a written retainer to hire counsel. In this e-mail and though your actions and words you clearly retained counsel. He consulted with you, either in person or by phone, executed the transaction, sent you retainer forms, tracked down your ticket and ensured you were not already in default, likely noticed the court that he was your attorney (and then had to notice them he was relieved), opened a file, closed a file, ledger payment and client refund, and who else knows what. He is entitled to recover in quantum merit for the services he provided you and work he did, and if it were me I would have charged you $200.00. The lights in our office do not come on for free, and our office staff are not volunteers. You did yourself a disservice by trying to defend this ticket yourself. The general public has no understanding of things such as the benefits of adjourning the case, the difference between a license suspension and license revocation, the difference between the DMV point system and the insurance merit point system, what the point reduction course is and when to take it, and what non-DMV point tickets still cause insurance increases under the insurance merit point system. $400.00 for a professional to go to court on your behalf, negotiate a plea that will keep your insurance low, and essentially do EVERYTHING for you for is a bargain - I charge $500.00 and it is still a bargain. When you catch a traffic conviction you have no idea on the behind the scenes problems and additional punishments that are subsequently imposed by the DMV. For example, there is a big difference between a 3 point speeding ticket and a 3 point non-speeding ticket for DMV regulatory punishments and insurance purposes that the average motorists has not a clue.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/23/2011
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C.
Theodore W. Robinson, P.C. | Theodore W. Robinson
While you make some good points, the amount of money involved is minimal and it seems you're going to spend more time and energy on it than it's worth, but then again,so is he. If he hasn't yet come around as a result of the Better Business Bureau, you can still go to the Grievance Committee of the local Bar Association and seek relief. That should put an end to it. However, if you consulted with an attorney, you should expect he will charge you for his services to some degree. That hundred dollars would normally be earned in the first fifteen minutes in most law firms, whether it was for typing a name, opening a file or speaking with you on the telephone. My suggestion is you let it go, but you now know how to go forward if you want to. Good luck.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 6/22/2011
Click to View More Answers: