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Flat Fees: A Few Wrinkles

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A widespread dissatisfaction with tradition billable hour fee arrangements, both among clients and among many members of the bar has increased the interest in flat fee agreements of the type which have been commonly used by immigration, family law and some criminal law attorneys for many years. Bar associations, including the Washington State Bar Association, have urged attorneys to consider flat fee agreements both as a means of satisfying client demand for value and as a way to address the embarrassing lack of access to crucially important legal services among low and moderate income individuals. But here’s the rub: even though the fee becomes the property of the lawyer “upon receipt” the client may still be entitled to be refunded a portion of the fee if the entire scope of work is not completed, even if the attorney is not at fault. This holds even if the legal work is not completed due to the client’s failure to cooperate in the representation or the client’s decision to terminate the attorney-client relationship. This article explores how attorneys should safeguard themselves and clients for the possibility that a client will want a refund of a flat fee paid to the attorney.


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