The California Bar Association rules require that most attorney engagements have a written agreement that is signed by both the attorney and the client. Clients can find attorney-client agreements to be intimidating. Although each agreement is client-specific, this page answers general questions about our agreements. Any prospective client may consult with any other attorney regarding the client agreement.
The attorney and the client(s).
This section lists the parties. In general, they are the attorney, and the client.
The attorney provides legal services to solve the client’s legal matter.
This section describes the services that the attorney will provide. In general, the services that we provide are legal representation on the matter that you are involved in. That matter is described briefly. We also describe the scope of our services. For example, for personal injury, we generally try to get clients money. If necessary, we will sue the defendant(s) to obtain the money.
All other legal services are excluded.
This section lays out the services that are not included. In general, tax, appellate work, defense work, collection of any monetary remedy and matters unrelated to the incident are excluded.
The attorney is either paid an hourly wage, or a percentage of the remedy achieved.
In general, the attorney can receive two forms of compensation from the client. These are an hourly amount that the client pays in cash, and a contingency fee. The contingency fee is a percentage of the monetary remedy that the attorney obtains for the client. The percentage depends on the specific case. The fee is not set by law, and clients can both negotiate the amount, as well as seek independent counsel to advise them.
Client Trust Fund Account
Clients funds are held in a trust account.
In general, if the engagement is an hourly engagement, the client must deposit amounts into a client trust account maintained by the attorney. This can confuse clients.
In short, a client trust fund account is a bank account that is held at a banking institution that must be approved by the California Bar Association. The California Bar has strict rules regarding these accounts, and such agreements.
A brief summary of these rules follows. The attorney deposits any pertinent amounts into this trust fund account. The amounts held in the account belong to clients. The attorney may not withdraw any amounts until the attorney earns fees, or advances the client costs on the client’s case. The attorney must keep detailed records of each transaction in the account, and report client activity to the client on a timely basis. In addition, the attorney must report to the California Bar.
Legal representation incurs costs that the client bears. Contingency clients generally pay costs from recovery, hourly clients pay costs in advance.
Legal matters have costs. Such costs include fees to file documents with the courts, costs to serve other parties, costs to conduct depositions and other discovery tools. Additionally, the attorney bills clients for certain costs incurred. These include making copies, scans or faxes ($0.50 per page), and per mile costs ($0.55 per mile). On almost every case, the client is responsible for costs.
However, on contingency cases, the attorney can advance the costs to the client. This means that the attorney pays for any costs as the case is ongoing. The costs are repaid from amounts collected. These costs that the attorney collects are in addition to the fees that the attorney earns. In contingency cases, if the amount collected is less than the costs, the attorney will not send the client a bill for the amount of the costs that exceed the recovery.
Recovery of Attorneys Fees and Costs
Some matters allow the court to order that an opposing party, or opposing attorneys pay the attorney fees and costs. In such case, the attorney retains the attorney’s fees and costs. This attorney does not share with clients any attorney’s fees that are awarded. However, when certain costs are recovered in such a manner, the attorney does not then collect actual costs from the client’s recovery.
The attorney will provide best efforts, the client will cooperate with the attorney
Basically, the attorney will use best efforts on behalf of the client, as well as communicate accurately and on a timely basis to the client. The client will tell the truth, cooperate and communicate with the attorney.
Attorney Withdrawal from the Case and Client Termination of the Attorney
Client can terminate at any time, attorney can terminate any time before lawsuit is filed for any reason, after lawsuit filed, attorney can terminate for good cause.
The agreement provides for either the client to terminate the attorney, or the attorney to withdraw from the case. Before litigation starts either party can terminate the engagement for any reason. After litigation starts, the attorney can only withdraw from the case for good cause. The client can terminate the attorney at any time, for any reason, or no reason.
However, it is important to note, that even afterwards, the attorney has a first claim on any amounts collected from the matter. This amount is computed by the attorney rate listed in the agreement, by the hours that the attorney has worked on the matter. This amount is protected by a lien against recovery. This lien should be satisfied first by the payer of any claim, and such amounts will not be paid to the client.
When the attorney provides services on contingency (meaning payment from remedy achieved), the attorney has a lien (or a claim) on any future recovery, even if the client terminates the attorney before such recovery.
An attorney has a lien against the proceeds of recovery on any case in which the attorney provides services in exchange for a promise of a share of the future recovery. This is called a lien. In general, the lien is for the reasonable value (quantum meruit) of the services provided. Because this is difficult to determine after the fact, the client agrees to the hourly rate of the attorney times the hours actually worked.
Client’s promises, consents, and liquidated damages clauses
The client makes several promises in the agreement. These include that the client is not represented by another attorney and that the client has not voluntarily pledged any possible recoveries to any other party. The client also promises not to post negative comments about the attorney on social media.
Such promises are secured by liquidated damages clauses. A liquidated damages clause means that the parties to the agreement estimate the dollar value of breaking a promise, and promise to pay that amount of money if the promise or promises are broken.
Additionally, the client consents to the attorney consulting with other attorneys on the matter, use of email, an cloud storage technology.
Contract Terms and Possible Dispute Over the Client Agreement
Although it is rare, sometimes there is a dispute over the attorney-client agreement. When that happens certain terms apply. Those terms include where the dispute will be resolved, whether the agreement was a complete agreement, and whose meaning will prevail when the parties argue over the agreement.
Most of the other terms deal with how the client agreement will be viewed by a court if the client and the attorney get into a dispute over that agreement.
In general, the client agrees that the written agreement is the entire agreement, and no other terms are part of the agreement. Such other terms that are not part of the agreement include any oral explanations. Additionally, this web page explaining the client agreement is not part of the final attorney-client agreement.
The client agrees that the place to resolve any dispute of the attorney client agreement is San Francisco, and the governing law is the law of the state of California. The client agrees that if any part of the agreement is found void, the rest of the agreement remains in effect. The client agrees that the agreement requires interpretation, and the court needs to resolve a dispute over that interpretation, the attorney will receive the benefit of such interpretation.
The attorney client agreement is a necessary part of obtaining your remedy. Much of the agreement is required by California rules governing attorney conduct. However, many of the terms can be explained. Additionally, prospective clients can always consult an independent attorney for advice.
We realize that hiring an attorney is a big decision. The client agreement can be intimidating. We are always here to help, and answer any questions. Do not hesitate to discuss any issue by calling (415) 992-5170.