One of the first things a client does after meeting with and deciding to hire a lawyer, is she signs the fee agreement. Fee agreements are a way for the lawyer to convey to the client and the client to understand what she will be expected to pay for the lawyer’s services. It also lays out the scope of the lawyer’s representation.
However, sometimes circumstances change after the original fee agreement is signed. The case may become more involved that originally thought or may require hiring an additional lawyer to assist with the case. When something changes and the original fee agreement is no longer applicable, can the fee agreement be modified?
An American Bar Association Ethics Opinion which was released in July answered this question. In order to modify an original fee agreement, the lawyer needs to show that at the time the fee agreement was modified, the modification was reasonable under the circumstances and that the client agreed to the modification. As long as the lawyer can show that there was a reasonable need to modify the fee agreement and the client agreed to it, a fee agreement can be modified if the original one is no longer applicable. However, if the lawyer does not have a reasonable need to modify or does not notify the client, there may be a claim for punitive damages under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.