When is an attorney’s fee excessive in Maryland

In Attorney Grievance Commission v. Lawson, the Maryland Court of Appeals determined that an attorney had charged an excessive fee in a divorce case.   Harry F. Fields received a $5,000 settlement offer from his wife.  Hoping to obtain a better marital settlement, Mr. Fields hired Jeffrey Lawson.  Mr. Field eventually obtained a $32,000 property settlement from his wife.  The problem was that he had incurred $35,000 in attorney’s fees.    As a result of his attorney’s excessive work and improper billing, Mr. Fields went from a positive outcome ($5,000) to a negative outcome (-$3,000 net result).

The Court of Appeals found that Jeffrey Lawson had charged an excessive fee, because his stake in the settlement exceeded his client’s.   The Court noted that the amount of work that the attorney performed could not have been reasonably expected to result in a material advantage to the client due to the small marital estate.  The attorney also ran up the bill by insisting upon out-of-office meetings with his client and then charging the client for his travel time.

For these and other violations, Mr. Lawson was disbarred from the practice of law in Maryland.



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