By David L. Duff of Duff & Kronfeld, P.C. posted in About the Law on Thursday, December 12, 2013.
Under existing Virginia law, attorneys are not required to have written fee agreements with their clients. Notwithstanding the fact that the Virginia State Bar strongly recommends that all attorneys have such written fee agreements with clients, many attorney-client relationships are still being established “on a handshake.”
It is my strongest advice that every client should demand that the terms upon which he or she is hiring an attorney be set forth in writing. While the formality of the document, and the language used, may vary widely, every form of a written fee agreement should be required to clearly describe at least the following:
1. A reasonably detailed and explicit description of the scope of the services to be provided by the attorney;
2. A clear explanation of your financial obligations, including the billing rates for individuals who may be working on your legal matter; and
3. The frequency of which you will be billed for services rendered by your attorney.
Whether or not it is expressly stated in your fee agreement, you, as the client, should demand that the bills you receive from your attorney be itemized so as to reflect the date on which work was performed on your legal matter; the nature of the work performed; and, the approximate time required to complete the task. Never accept a bill from your attorney that merely states “For Services Rendered,” as all Virginia attorneys are ethically required to provide a client with the aforementioned itemizations of charges.
In addition, a written fee agreement is often invaluable in the event a dispute should arise, either with respect to the charges billed by your attorney or the nature and extent of the work performed by your attorney. As a practical matter, “getting it in writing” at the start of the attorney-client relationship will go a long way towards avoiding any future misunderstanding between you and your attorney.