Lawyer charging for... basically nothing

43 posts in this topic

Hi,

So, I had some troubles on which I decided I should pursue the counsel of a lawyer. I called one and told him about my case, he said to e-mail more details to him, which I did.

On the e-mail I basically told him about the situation and asked if I had any chance of winning - and made clear that I would understand if he did not take the case, because the amounts involved are small. I also said that, if he thought I could win, I would be interested to do a no-obligation first visit to him so that he could better explain the situation to me.

Well, he replied by e-mail saying I probably would not win. So I gave up on taking legal action, replied a thanks and goodbye to him and that was that. But now he wants to charge me more than 200 EUR for the e-mail??

Can he charge me for that? I certainly did not agree to any contract and was thinking of paying him only if I decided to go ahead with legal action and choose him to represent me. I know he certainly took some minutes to reply to me, but how is any lawyer going to get customers if he does not do that?

So, does he have any legal basis to charge me?

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I guess it depends on the exact wording of your email. Did you make it clear that you don´t want to enter into a contractual relationship with him?

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It sounds to me like you asked for his professional opinion, which he gave and charged you for without you understanding what happened.  I would imagine his view is: someone emailed me asking for legal advice, which I gave and charged him for my time, at the usual 1 hour minimum rate and now he is saying he doesnt want to pay.

Morally speaking I think the laywer is at fault, and should have replied "answering this costs X do you want me to do so" however life does not fit around my views and I think the laywer is probably in the right from a legal perspective.

Im not too sure how to avoid these kinds of misunderstandings, I guess as Jeba says maybe the wording needs to clearly state something along the lines of this being an initial contact to understand the costs and risks involved before any chargeable work is done.

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How did he get your name and adress?

If I send a mail from my private Fastmail.fm account.. no one knows who or where I am..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I know what you mean - the 200 Euros are a typical charge for an initial consultation by a lawyer, meaning you go to his office, sit down with papers, and assess the case.

However, I've encountered a number of lawyers who did not charge for very short consultations (15 minutes) on the phone (usually on a specific day of the week) or a short email answer!! I've used that service myself. (it makes business sense for the lawyer, too, as it reduces the initial hurdle).

In the light of that, I'm not sure if the lawyer is justified to charge for an initial consultation, especially as he didn't state he would bill as such.

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There is, legally spoken, no such thing as an advice from a lawyer for free. If he/she has had a look at your case. This is called "Erstberatung" and fully covered by the law.

In such cases as you described I would never submit my case by mail or email. You might get, in a personal encounter, get charged much less, sort of of "well, give me 50 bugs and it's done. Might, not sure. But if the "chemistry" between you and the lawyer is ok this could happen.

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I agree, the Erstberatung is covered by law. It doesn't change my experience with lawyers as described above, and that a billable service needs to be clear to the client.

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Even if the answer is that you have no case, it might have taken the lawyer 1 hour to go through your documents to reach this conclusion.

It also sounds like you're lucky he was honest enough to tell you it wasn't in your interests rather than saying: let's get the feckers, and charging you x thousand to lose..

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 and that a billable service needs to be clear to the client.

​Uh?? 

Thats like saying everything is free until i tell you that I will bill you!!

The guy has already diverted the Laywer from his already planed schedule!!

I hate it when folk call me and say "I've tried to align my dish but I cant get it sorted... Can you tell me what I am doing wrong?" or some such..

The answer is usually "No... Because i wont make any money that way"...

 

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I don't get the "free lunch" comment. A client has to initially ask a lawyer about the case if he is to get one. I see charging for that as like he is trying to shift his profession's risk (not getting the client once he understands his chances) to me.

But it's already clear there was some kind of misunderstanding here. What I want to know is is if I'm legally bound to pay him or not. I did not consent to a contact, did I accidentally enter one anyway?

Also, what is Erstberatung? 

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Erstberantung = "first advice" - initial consultation.  Try google translate for such things.

A big part of a lawyer's job is to give people legal advice.  Your lawyer did so.  Now you have to pay him for doing his job.  I'm sorry for it, that's a big bill to get by surprise, but that's how it is. 

Think, if a lawyer answered all queries like your for free?  He'd have no time for paid work!

 

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An Erstberatung is an initial paid consultation. It is often relatively cheap, even a fraction of the lawyer's hourly rate. It allows you and lawyer to discuss the outline and merits of the case, and for the lawyer to advise you whether to walk away, or to pay more and take it further. €200 would be a typical price for same.

I notice you hoped for a "no-obligation first visit". Like a free lunch there is no such thing in Germany, and probably Europe.

It is common in countries where the lawyer takes a percentage of the settlement. In the USA an ambulance chasing lawyer hoping to get 40% of a $10M settlement will happily offer no obligation, and no win no fee. Here lawyers cannot get a percentage of the settlement. Thus their long term compensation is far lower and they expect to be paid for even the shortest consultations.

Perhaps you should approach another lawyer to ask if you must pay this one. you certainly didn't sign a contract, and your Emails might not be legally binding. I think you should pay the €200 and be happy. 

I note your comment about his shifting risk to you. In light of his inability to get a share of your settlement I don't think your statement is relevant.

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Legal insurance. Around 200 EUR a year for a decent one with 150 SB and you can sleep in peace. Plus most of them offer free fist consultation (no SB).

P.S., First consultation price is 180 EUR plus taxes, so your bill seems in order. There is no free first consultation in Germany.

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Well, then the gist of it seems to be that I am in fact bound to pay. Thanks for all the useful answers. 

I am still surprised by all this, because in my country of origin no lawyer can charge you for a first consultation. If he thinks giving you initial advice would take an unreasonable time for him, he asks you for money upfront and it's up to you to take the offer or not. And I never saw any lawyers complaining about that, I guess it actually means they get more business because no one is afraid to ask. I don't understand where people are seeing a free lunch here, there IS actually a cost to doing business.

Anyway, seems I have to do a lot of research before getting into even seemingly simple matters here in Germany... I guess that's MY cost for doing business here :)

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Did the lawyer disclose his fees prior to you discussing the matter with him?  There are minimum fees which a lawyer may charge for various services provided in the Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz and any deviation from those fees requires agreement between client and lawyer.

If there was no disclosure, you might like to call your local law society (the professional body regulating lawyers): http://www.rak-bremen.de.  They should be able to assist you in determining whether there was a binding agreement on fees.

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Well, then the gist of it seems to be that I am in fact bound to pay. Thanks for all the useful answers. 

I am still surprised by all this, because in my country of origin no lawyer can charge you for a first consultation.

​But you are not in your country of origin! "Andere Länder, andere Sitten" as the Germans say.

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  • to restart an older thread:

I engaged a lawyer to do a specific Task for me (file for Unterhalt after a divorce). The divorce had been finalized, but particulars were not (Division of house and household goods). I clearly specified that she should deal only with the Unterhalt, and Keep away from anything to do with the house.

 She did some figuring about the Unterhalt, but then tried to tie this in with the house Settlement, something that I said, many times and explicitly, that I did not want.

 Long Story short - she gave me (in essence) an Ultimatum - either accept the offer that she had put in place (against my explicit wishes, and without first Consulting me), or she could no longer represent me.

 So, I fired her.

 I had paid her an advance sum which was reflected on my first bill. I was charged rate A, in keeping with her work.

 Now, as she saw the €s fly out the window (as she lost a percentage of the house "sale"), she has sent me an exorbitant bill, at rate B.

 I have contacted her and told her that I would pay the second bill at rate A. She has refused.

  What recourse(s) have I? Is there a legal entity to whom I can turn?

 Any and all suggestions are appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Sorry to hear about your story food mom. Can you try to include as much detail as possible regarding the communication you had with the lawyer... i.e. is there any contract stating what she would and would not be working on? Is there written communication (letters or emails) saying that she is not to work on the house settlement, but rather only on the Unterhalt?

It seems like many lawyers are well practiced in running up the largest bills they can muster and I hope you have a legal recourse to not pay this extorted bill, but only hope that somebody with more legal knowledge can answer this for you. In general, though, you can expect a lot of questions relating to the details before you get any meaningful answers so go ahead and provide all that could be relevant.

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