When you are in desperate need of a lawyer, you may be willing to sign any Fee Agreement sent to you without even looking at it closely.
Before you sign, take the time to carefully review any Attorney Fee Agreement for the following:
#1. Is the scope of representation specified? Are you asking for representation as to one matter (such as divorce) or multiple matters (such as divorce and a temporary restraining order).
#2. Are the hourly fees and other expenses clearly spelled out in the Fee Agreement? If not, they should be. You should have a clear understanding of how much you are being charged and for what. It's one thing to pay several hundred dollars an hour every time you speak with your lawyer. It's another thing to pay double or triple that for after hours and weekend work. Be sure you are comfortable paying the fees indicated in the Fee Agreement.
#3. Are any unused funds refundable to you or retained by the attorney? There are lawyers in Georgia who will retain 100% of unused funds once they are paid. I personally think that's unethical but if you sign off on a Fee Agreement that allows the lawyer to retain unused funds, you may not have any recourse.
#4. Does the Fee Agreement specify when the retainer will need to be replenished? Your Fee Agreement should indicate that when funds in your account are below a threshold amount, the retainer has to be replenished. It should also indicate how much of a trial retainer you need to pay in advance of trial.
#5. Does the Fee Agreement specify the jurisdiction where suit may be filed in the event of nonpayment? If you live out of state and the Fee Agreement you sign provides for jurisdiction in Georgia, be aware that you can be sued in Georgia for nonpayment of any fees.
#6. Does the Fee Agreement address any matters outside the scope of representation? We are not forensic accountants or specialists in drafting Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDROs") so our Fee Agreement clearly spells out that these matters are not included in the scope of our representation.
Be sure to read the fine print before you sign a Fee Agreement in a Georgia divorce or family law case. If you sign first and ask questions later, you may end up costing yourself unnecessary attorney's fees and the headaches that go along with overpaying for services.