In Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Framm, 449 Md. 620 (2016), the Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred Rhonda I. Frame for excessive billing (among other reasons). Framm was retained by her client to vacate a $55,000 judgment entered in a divorce case. Framm was successful in having the $55,000 judgment vacated, but she charged $58,748.77 in attorney’s fees and collected $54,000 in fees.
There were several reasons why Framm’s charges were disproportionate to the amount in dispute, including (a) she engaged in abusive discovery tactics; (b) she charged the client “for her work in procuring [the expert]’s testimony despite the fact that her discovery misconduct caused his testimony to be excluded”; and (c) she charged the client for her numerous defective filings.
In disbarring Framm, the Court of Appeals found that Framm violated her ethical duty to advise the client that the cost of continuing with the litigation may nullify any benefit. Secondly, Framm’s fees were unreasonable, because the excessive amount of time she expended on the case was largely due to her own litigation mistakes and misconduct. The Court of Appeals concluded that although the client obtained the result he wanted, that outcome “was not because of Respondent’s efforts, but rather despite the Respondent’s misconduct”.
Practice Pointer for clients: (1) An attorney’s fees must be reasonable. Your attorney’s fees usually should not exceed the amount in controversy; and (2) when an attorney commits a mistake, you should not be billed for the time and effort that it takes the attorney to correct the mistake. In other words, the client should not be charged for the attorney’s defective work or the time that it takes the attorney to correct his or her mistakes.