Friday, November 7, 2014

Can I Make My Opponent Pay My Legal Fees?

Another question that is asked all the time is: Can I make my opponent pay my legal fees? 

In general, the answer is no. We follow the so-called American Rule in this country. Each party is responsible for his/her own costs and fees. There are exceptions when contracts or statutes that are pertinent to the controversy provide for shifting of costs and fees. Apartment leases, as an example, typically recite that if the landlord must pursue the tenant for the rent, the tenant will also be chargeable for the attendant costs and fees. Many of the statutes which govern discrimination in the workplace also make allowance for fee-shifting.

There are some who assume that because a fee-shifting agreement or statute is available, their own attorney will have no recourse against them but only against their opponent. It does not work that way, however, unless the attorney agrees to look solely to the opposition for compensation. 

Prudent counsel will make it clear early on that the obligation to compensate the attorney is on the client, not on the client's opponent; that the attorney will look to the client for that compensation; and that the client may, in  turn, invoke the fee-shifting to pursue reimbursement from the opposition. 

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