Hiring a lawyer is a big commitment. Not only do you have to pay their fees, but you are also trusting them with a sensitive and potentially life-changing legal matter. So what happens if you can’t (or won’t) pay your lawyer? Here’s what you need to know.
Before taking any legal action, your lawyer will likely send you a written notice demanding payment. This notice will give you a specific time period to make the payment. If you fail to do so, your lawyer may take one or more of the following actions.
Withdraw From Representation
If you don’t pay your lawyer, he or she may withdraw from representing you in your case. In order to do so, your lawyer must file a motion with the court asking to be allowed to withdraw. Once the motion is granted, your lawyer will no longer be legally obligated to represent you.
However, depending on the timing and circumstances of the withdrawal, it could negatively impact your case. For example, if your lawyer withdraws close to trial, it may not give you enough time to find a new lawyer and prepare for trial.
Get a Judgment Against You
If you owe your lawyer money for fees that have already been incurred, he or she can sue you for the outstanding balance. If the lawyer wins the lawsuit (called a “breach of contract” action), the court will enter a judgment against you for the amount owed plus interest and court costs. Once the judgment is entered, the lawyer can collect on it by garnishing your wages or seizing assets from your bank account.
File a Lien Against Your Property
In some cases, your lawyer may file a lien against your property—meaning that he or she has a legal claim against any money or property that you own. For example, if you are involved in a personal injury lawsuit and receive a settlement from the at-fault party’s insurance company, your lawyer could file a lien against that settlement money in order to get paid.
Hiring a lawyer is serious business—both financially and emotionally. If you find yourself unable to pay your attorney’s fees, it’s important to understand what actions they may take in order to get paid. While it’s certainly not an ideal situation, there are legal remedies available to attorneys when their clients don’t honor their financial commitments.
The best course of action is always to communicate openly and frequently with your attorney so that any financial problems can be addressed head-on instead of allowing them to fester into larger issues down the road.