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Lawyer Ethics When Clients Won’t Pay Fees

May 1, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Attorneys and clients are in a confidential relationship, one that demands the lawyer’s absolute loyalty and zealous representation of client interests.  But what if the client refuses to pay his or her lawyer?  At that point, the broad and categorical demands of the ethics rules run up against the practical business of running a law practice. This clash of interests raises a range of substantial ethical issues.  How can the lawyer compel payment yet continuing representing a client?  Must he or she withdraw from the representation?  Can the lawyer sue the client or place a lien on client property?  Is the lawyer allowed to breach certain confidences in obtaining payment? This program will provide you with a guide to the ethical issues that arise when a client refuses to pay for a lawyer’s legal services, practical methods to ethically obtain payment, and best practices to avoid these disputes.

Handout Materials will be emailed to you prior to the seminar
1.0 MCLE Credit Hours, including 1 ethics hour


  • Ethics when clients refuse to pay their lawyers’ fees
  • How to manage the direct conflict with a client without breaching confidences
  • Determining whether continuing a representation is permissible or required
  • When and how a withdrawal from a representation is permitted in the cases of non-payment of fees
  • Ethical issues when a lawyer places a lien on client property or sues the client
  • Issues when no-payment relates to one of multiple representations of a client
  • Understanding related attorney-client privilege issues
  • Best practices in engagement letters and billing practices to protect lawyers


Thomas E. Spahn, McGuire Woods – McLean, VA

Matthew Corbin, AON Risk Services