If an accountant is grossly overcharging for services, do I have to pay her?

We hired an accountant to do our business/personal taxes. We discussed her fees in the beginning and I told her that I was prepared to pay $500 to $600 and did not want to pay more than $800. Our previous accountant, who retired, charged us $375. After working with her for several months, and finding her very difficult to work with, I found another accountant and told her I would not need her services anymore. She then sent us a bill for $3,800. The new accountant I hired to replace her charged us $500. Do we have any legal options to refuse payment? I want to pay her the $800 we discussed in the beginning and be done with her. There was never anything written down regarding payment or her fees.

Asked on September 8, 2016 under Business Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

An oral (unwritten) agreement as to fees is enforceable, but it can be difficult to prove: if there is nothing written down and she "remembers" the agreement differently than you do, if you refuse to pay and she sues you for the money, it will come down to "he said, she said"--that is, the court will have to decide who is more credible or believable. If you don't pay and she does sue you, you do have a *fractional* or tiny advantage, in that since she'd be the plaintiff (person suing), the burden of proof is on her; that means she needs be at least a tiny bit more believable than you, and if the two of you are equally believable to the court, you win (e.g. you win in a dead tie in terms of credibility). Therefore, you could refuse to pay more than the $800, wait to see if she sues, then defend the case, counting on the tiny advantage to give you the edge. But even with that advantage, it's still far from guaranteed that you'd win, and defending a lawsuit will itself cost you time and money. You may be best off trying to settle for some amount in the middle, rather than go through litigation. If you can settle, be sure to get in writing that the amount you agree to pay is payment in full of all amounts due from the work she did for you.


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