Should I chargeback my attorney?
November 13, 2005 3:42 PM   Subscribe

I had a paid consultation with an attorney, and decided to hire the firm. I signed the agreement and sent the form for the credit card authorization. I didn't hear from them for a few days, and after a number of calls, I was sent a waiver form to sign, before they would start working on my case. This was in addition to the agreement I'd signed earlier. They also sent me some templates for letters. My card had not yet been charged. Needless to say, my confidence with this firm wasn't very high at this point. The waiver letter I was signing said something about getting advice from independent counsel. I did exactly that. I contacted another attorney, found his strategy much better and found that he was more confident. I decided to go ahead with the new attorney. I contacted the old firm and told them, that I did not want to continue with them. They asked me to send an email, which I did. The next day, they went ahead and charged my card for the first payment (half the full amount). We talked a few times and now they tell me, that I'm not entitled to a refund, the amount charged covers the additional consultations and the letter templates. I don't have a problem paying for the additional consultation and any time they spent on my case, but charging this for the templates doesn't seem right. Should I chargeback on the credit card?
posted by naveed to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Yes, get the chargeback going right away!

Then you might write a polite letter to the original lawyer explaining what you did. Ask them to submit a reasonable bill for the services they actually gave you, and let them know that you would be very happy to pay a reasonable fee.

wik on chargeback.
posted by Chuckles at 3:53 PM on November 13, 2005

Why doesn't charging you for templates seem right? The templates are their intellectual property, which they have provided to you. You should be paying them for the use of that intellectual property.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:57 PM on November 13, 2005

Yes. Do the chargeback. This is exactly why chargebacks exist. Businesses cannot just decide you owe them money and charge your card.
posted by pwb503 at 3:58 PM on November 13, 2005

No reason not to do a chargeback.
posted by delmoi at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2005

Make sure the "agreement letter" didn't have a clause about what happens if you hire a different lawyer or back out of the transaction.
posted by falconred at 4:17 PM on November 13, 2005

Do bear in mind the cost of your time if you get drawn into a protracted three-way argument with the credit card company and some angry lawyers.
posted by wackybrit at 4:41 PM on November 13, 2005

IANAL, but I think this would very much rest on whatever signed agreement you had with them, specifically in reference to when templates were to be delivered. Unless there's reference to a specific milestone which was reached, you're probably in good standing. Definitely, in your letter to them, provide written confirmation that the materials were (a) not used and (b) destroyed (which means you break the CD or delete the email).
posted by mkultra at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2005

It's a general rule of legal ethics that no matter what kind of contract that a lawyer and a client have signed regarding payment, no lawyer may charge a fee that is unreasonable. That's vague legalese, but if this firm is charging you thousands of dollars for a letter template and a few consultations, you have every right to contact your state's bar association and file a complaint.
posted by thewittyname at 6:08 PM on November 13, 2005

Naveed, your profile doesn't indicate where you live, so I can't do the legwork for you online, but I know that in Illinois, we have the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission with which you can file complaints about attorneys. I would suggest you call your local circuit court clerk and ask them what state entity is in charge of accepting complaints about attorneys. (It may be something like a 'Department of Professional Regulation' or something.)
posted by WCityMike at 6:23 PM on November 13, 2005

A chargeback is an immense headache for the merchant and their service provider. It costs them money (although only about $25) and more importantly, credibility. (Merchants can have trouble maintaining their accounts, or additional fees levied against them if there are too many chargebacks. Visa and them don't like the risk associated with an account that receives a lot of them.)

Therefore, I'd suggest you threaten a chargeback first. Tell them that you'd like a complete refund for the amount charged, and a reissued invoice for what you believe to be the services you initially agreed to pay for that you accepted.

If they don't want to cooperate, then go ahead and chargeback.
posted by disillusioned at 8:32 PM on November 13, 2005

You met with an attorney, agreed to hire and pay for the attorney, gave your credit card information, signed a contract stating your intention to hire and pay for the attorney, met with the attorney, received work product from the attorney, and now don't want to pay?

I don't think you should do a chargeback. I don't see what the attorney did wrong to deserve this.

You agreed to pay for the work. The attorney did the work. You now have to pay. Use the new lawyer for future disputes.
posted by Sheppagus at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2005

We talked a few times and now they tell me, that I'm not entitled to a refund, the amount charged covers the additional consultations

It's not clear what the "additional consultations" were that you mention that the law firm wants to charge for. If these are discussions over the phone about cancelling your agreement, that's absurd - in no way does that provide value to you. If, on the other hand, you actually did get advice (it's not clear why you would have asked for this, or listened) regarding your situation, in addition to discussing cancelling your agreement, then you have a bit weaker case.

At issue here is what you might reasonably have expected in the way of work by the firm (e.g., 20 to 40 hours of work) and what you actually got (an initial hour or two, some hours to put together an agreement, and ??). You might ask for an itemized list of time spent (law firms typically track work, down to the minute, for billing purposes), to get a better sense of what you should pay them (since you agree you should pay them something).

Does the agreement you signed call for mediation or binding arbitration in the case of a disagreement over it? Is there an explicit cancellation provision?
posted by WestCoaster at 1:47 PM on November 14, 2005

If you think you're getting charged unfairly or for an unreasonable fee related to work done, contact the charging lawyer first and explain why this is so, and ask THEM for a refund. They know, and know that you likely know at this point, that charging an unreasonable fee or collecting unearned fees is something that can get them disbarred.

If they stand firm, contact your state bar association and ask how to file a complaint. If you do file the complaint, state your case in the way you did here - coolly and rationally.

They will likely reach some agreement with you about full or partial refund of the fees charged. If not, follow up with the bar complaint. A chargeback might buy you trouble, though, unless backed up with a bar complaint.
posted by mikewas at 7:37 AM on November 16, 2005

Thanks everyone. Good advice especially with respect to the State Bar Association. I really need to do that.

I was under the impression that I was going to get an email notification upon replies, and never did. So I'd thought no one had responded.
posted by naveed at 4:15 PM on November 22, 2005

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