Visitor Question

Can an attorney change his fees once the disbursement is signed and filed?

Submitted By: Anonymous (Ontario, California)

On November 7, 2019, I received an email from my attorney’s office sending me a disbursement contract to go over, and if I agreed to the terms I needed to sign and send it back. On November 8, 2019, I signed the disbursement and I received another email saying it was signed and filed.

I then called the law firm and spoke to a representative of the firm since she left me a voicemail. She said they received the disbursement and everything looked good, and the cutoff day to send checks out was Thursdays. Since I sent it on Friday I would have to wait for the following week to receive the check. She said that was all that was needed of me.

On November 15, 2019, I received an email with another disbursement where they increased their fees by a little over $1,600. My question therefore is, can they change the fees? I didn’t get a phone call or email explaining the changes, I just saw that the fee went up. What’s going on here? Thank you.

Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.


Dear Anonymous,

Based on your question, it sounds like you had a contingency fee agreement with your attorney. Such an agreement is permissible under the California rules of professional conduct and a contingency fee agreement is simply a contract between you and your attorney.

Proper fees

It would be improper for your attorney to charge a fee in excess of what is called for in the contingency fee agreement. Further, it sounds like you may have entered a second contract when you signed the disbursement agreement sent by your attorney’s office.

Rule 1.5 (a) of the State Bar of California’s Rules of Professional Conduct prohibits an attorney from charging or collecting an unconscionable or illegal fee. Those rules further provide that a fee is unconscionable if the client failed to give informed consent to the fee.

If your attorney charged a fee higher than what was established by the contingency fee agreement and you did not consent to the fee, then it is likely unconscionable under the rules governing attorney conduct in your state.

Was it reimbursement for costs?

One thing to consider, in addition to a fee, your attorney is also allowed to reimburse himself or herself for any litigation costs paid by your attorney to pursue your claim. The amount of the check you received will be the total settlement amount minus your attorney’s fees and costs advanced.

Take another look at the disbursement contract and make sure the $1600 wasn’t a cost reimbursement kept by your attorney.

If after reviewing the disbursement contract you still believe your attorney took too much in fees, you should call your attorney immediately to discuss the situation. Have your original contingency fee agreement and the disbursement contract with you for reference when you make the call.

If you can’t resolve the issue by speaking with your attorney, the California State Bar has a fee dispute process that you might want to consider.

Learn more here: Personal Injury Attorney Fees

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.

Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call 888-972-0892.

We wish you the best with your claim,


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