Can a lawyer decide to charge you whatever he feels like it without a contract or bill given?

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Can a lawyer decide to charge you whatever he feels like it without a contract or bill given?

My fiance and I purchased a house. We had no agent and did not hire an attorney. The lawyer handling the paperwork was hired by the sellers so we’ve had to contact him for everything. Again my fiance and I have no contract with this man. We did not hire him and we didn’t like him from

the beginning since he’s slow to file everything. Well we spoke to him one time about how to get the keys to the house a bit quicker than the typical means. He recommended an appeal. He did no paperwork nor did he help us in any way besides the advice. We followed through and at the very end we need his signature to get the keys. He then tells us he wants 6k otherwise he refuses. So instead of dealing with it we ask for a bill and say we’ll pay the 6k, but then it changes to 10k. And

now he’s asking for more. Is there a legal standpoint I can take? He cannot be allowed to do this right? Is there some way I can get around having him give us the keys?

Asked on October 16, 2016 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Since he was retained (hired by) the seller, you, as the buyer do not need to pay him; he was already working on this matter, for the other side, and ethically cannot work for or charge both sides. Even if, against that basic ethical rule, a court were to somehow find that he is entitled to pay, without an agreement, under the doctrine of "quantum meruit," he is only entitled to the fair value of his effort/time--which for a brief phone consultation might be from $100 - $250 or so, not thousand of dollars. Send him a letter, sent some some way or ways you can prove delivery (such as certified mail or fed ex with tracking) stating the was the *seller's attorney* not yours; he was retained by and is paid by the seller, not you, to work on this matter; there there no attorney-client relationship; no agreement to pay for his services; and therefore, unless he drops his demand and provides you the keys for the home you purchased, you will file an ethical complaint against him with the state bar association and take any/all other legal actions to which you are entitled, which could potentially include filing a police report extortion against him and looking to press charges (you don't need to put this detail into the letter, but it could be for extortion [blackmailing you for the keys] and/or fraud [lying about what you need to do, to get you to pay him money]) and/or suing him for all your costs or losses from him withholding access to your own property. Then if he doesn't comply, do these things.


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