These summaries were prepared by McGuireWoods LLP lawyer Thomas E. Spahn. They are based on the letter opinions issued by the Virginia State Bar. Any editorial comments reflect Mr. Spahn's current personal views, and not the opinions of the Virginia State Bar, McGuireWoods or its clients. 
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8-Bills and Fees

52-Fees in Family Law Cases

This LEO describes the principles governing attorney fees, emphasizing that fee contracts "are not construed as are other commercial contracts." Among other things, "all fees must be reasonable." Because the client "retains the absolute right to discharge the lawyer at any time for any reason or without reason," a discharged lawyer may only recover in quantum meruit for services rendered - valued by looking at the "reasonable value of the services rendered, not to the benefit received by the client." A lawyer must return all unearned fees if the representation ends. A "retainer" is not a pre-payment for legal services, but rather a payment made to insure a lawyer's availability for future legal services. There may be no non-refundable advance legal fee. Even if a lawyer and client agree to a fixed fee, the lawyer must return any unused portion if the representation ends (using a quantum meruit approach). Contingent fees can be used in family law matters only in "extremely rare situations." [Rule 1.5(d)(1) and Comment [3a] codify the circumstances in which lawyers may handle family law matters on a contingent fee basis.] [Approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia 11/2/16].

Copyright 2000, Thomas E. Spahn