The “Non Refundable” Flat-Fee Agreement Myth

Many attorneys use “non-refundable” flat fee agreements to render legal professional services. While the Supreme Court of Ohio acknowledges that under certain circumstances it is proper for a lawyer to enter a flat fee agreement, such agreement must comply with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct. (Advisory Opinion 2016-1).

A flat fee or fixed fee is a fee of a set amount that the attorney charges for specific legal work. Usually, the client pays the fee in advance.

Under the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, the flat fee cannot be excessive. Furthermore, the lawyer may only retain a fee equal to the reasonable value of legal services actually rendered. In the event the attorney-client relationship is terminated prior to the completion of the legal services paid for, the lawyer has a duty to account for and return any unearned portion of the fee. This means that if the lawyer quits or the client fires the attorney during the representation (for any reason), the client has a right to an accounting, with details of the time spent on the matter. The attorney must return to the client the unearned portion of the flat fee. (Columbus Bar Assn. v. Farmer).

This is the case even if the attorney designates the fee as “earned upon receipt” or “nonrefundable.”

Additionally, a flat fee agreement cannot interfere with an attorney’s duties to provide competent and diligent representation. If you feel that the payment of a flat fee is interfering with the services you are receiving from an attorney, you should seek an additional opinion on the matter.

Any attempt to threaten the client with the loss of the entire fee before conclusion of the legal matter is a serious violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Please continue to follow our website or schedule a consultation should you desire to know more about “non-refundable” flat-fee agreements.

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