What are the consequences of refusing to pay an invoice?

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What are the consequences of refusing to pay an invoice?

A divorce lawyer sent me an invoice for services rendered without notifying me of their fees prior to doing so. There was only one concrete figure (fee) quoted –  which the action (filing) was not followed through with. What happens if I refuse to pay the invoice? I did not sign any agreement.

Asked on February 17, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The short answer is, you need to pay whatever you agreed to pay, for the services provided, if they were provided. You say that no action was actually undertaken; if the lawyer did not do what he or she stated he or she would do--what the fee was supposed to be for--they can't charge you for it.

In terms of not providing you a fee schedule previously--if there truly was no notice of fees at all, then you might have grounds to dispute the fees, or at least grounds to only pay would be the normal, reasonable fee for any consultation or services.  However, if the lawyer said, for example, "I don't provide free initial consulations" or "There is a charge for any consultation" and you went ahead with a consultation without inquiring into the fee, that could agreement to pay whateve is charged (assuming it's within shouting distance of being reasonable).

The issue here may be a factual disagreement: the lawyer may feel he or she disclosed fees or did the work for which you are being charged and you obviously disagree. Without good evidentiary back-up one way or the  other, it comes down to recollection and credibility (if it goes to court). The burden of proof would be on the lawyer if he or she sues you--which is an option a professional has if they believe a lawful fee is not being charged--which gives some advantage to you (on the other hand, you can assume the lawyer is in a better position to litigate than you are). Unless the behavior and/or fee is so clearly unconscionable that you want to file an ethics complaint, you may wish to try to negotiate and settle something, since it seems you did at least meet with the attorney. You local or state bar association should have a service to help mediate lawyer-client fee disputes.


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