Attorney’s Liens and Legal Fee Enforcement:
What to do if your client stops paying you
by Richard A. Klass, Esq.
Richard Klass’ book, Quick Reference Guide to Attorney’s Liens and Legal Fee Enforcement, is intended to provide attorneys with information relating to the attachment and enforcement of retaining liens and charging liens; methods of enforcement of these attorney’s liens; steps to be taken to pursue legal action for the recovery of legal fees; and risk management and ethical issues relating to the enforcement of attorney’s liens and actions.
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Under common law, an attorney was originally only entitled to a lien upon the judgment but the scope of the charging lien was extended by statute [Judiciary Law Section 475] to give the attorney a lien upon the client’s cause of action as well. The lien comes into existence, without notice or filing, upon commencement of the action or proceeding. See, Matter of Heinsheimer, 241 NY 361 ….
The Fee Dispute Resolution Program (22 NYCRR Section 137) was created to mandate arbitration of fee disputes between attorneys and their former clients in civil matters. It has been subject to differing opinions among different departments leading to divergent opinions on the issue of whether or not an arbitration is necessary when the former client fails to object the validity of the underlying fee….
Sometimes, an attorney is discharged by his client without cause, and with a substantial amount of money due to the attorney from the client. Aside from the attorney bringing a plenary action on the debt owed by the client, the attorney may seek alternative measures through the application of liens upon the client’s cause of action or file, through the employment of either a “charging” lien or “retaining” lien…
In litigation, there may come a time when, without cause, an attorney withdraws from the case or the client discharges the attorney. At that instance, the attorney is wondering how he is going to get paid the remainder of his legal fee from his client. He may also be wondering what mechanisms may be used to get paid….