Attorney Liens Part 1: What are Attorney Liens?
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When you hire an attorney, you will normally sign a contract laying out the work you expect the attorney to accomplish and the method by which the attorney expects to be paid for his time. Whether you pay a retainer up front or sign a contingency fee agreement assigning a portion of your potential award to your attorney, few clients expect their attorneys to work for free. A typical agreement also spells out who should be responsible for the costs of filing fees, expert witnesses, and other expenses that are a normal part of your type of lawsuit. You may agree to pay some or all of those costs as the case progresses, or your attorney may agree to pay for everything until he obtains a money judgment in your favor. Each case is unique, and there are many different types of attorney contracts – but the language of yours could have a huge impact on your future relationship with your attorney.
Once the agreement is signed, most attorneys will get to work. Over the coming weeks and months, he and his staff will obtain and review reports, interview witnesses, schedule and attend formal depositions, and engage expert witnesses. He will build a case file, negotiate with the other party, and spend time answering your questions. He will prepare for trial, file motions on your behalf, and work toward achieving your objectives.
Only, things don’t always go according to plan.
Whether you become dissatisfied with your attorney’s representation or whether your attorney seeks to withdraw from your case for reasons of his own, you may be left in the position of needing to hire a new attorney to finish your case. When that happens, your original attorney may, in some but not all cases, still be entitled to payment for the time he spent on your case and for the expenses he has covered to investigate your claim. If you cannot or do not pay him according to the terms of your contract – or if you dispute the amount he is requesting – he has a few options to attempt to force payment.
The two favored options for a Florida attorney who wants to recover costs and fees owed him by a former client are retaining liens and charging liens. Retaining liens, basically, allow an attorney to hold your file – and all the evidence he’s collected while working on your case – as surety against your payment. Charging liens allow him to claim a portion of your future judgment in the case, once you receive it.
There are rules governing an attorney’s ability to file each type of lien, and conditions that must exist before a lien can be filed at all. Those rules and conditions will be explored in Part 2, and retaining and charging liens will be explored in Part 3.