Can a lawyer back out of a contingency fee arrangement?

It is usually best to seek an independent opinion if the lawyer is suggesting a change in the fee agreement.

Question

What does the word "contingency" mean in a contingency contract with a lawyer? Also, once a contingency fee contract is signed with a lawyer, is it ethical for the lawyer to verbally attempt to change the terms of that contract?

Answer

First, lest you feel alone, you should know that disputes over fees are the most common point of contention between lawyers and their clients -- or former clients, as is often the case.

In lawyer contract discussions, "contingency" usually means that the lawyer's fee is contingent (dependent) on the outcome: The lawyer gets paid if the court awards and the client collects a recovery. If there is no recovery, the lawyer does not get paid .

It is not ethical for an attorney to change the fee agreement midstream unless the client is advised to seek the advice of an independent attorney before agreeing to the change. And it is usually best to seek an independent opinion if the lawyer is suggesting a change in the fee agreement.

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