Hourly Rate In Engagement Letter Held Not To Be Ambiguous


A client hired an attorney to represent him in a case. The client signed an engagement letter to pay the attorney $200.00 per hour and further agreed to hourly billing rates for the attorney's staff. The attorney and client negotiated a $10,000 retainer, later reduced the retainer, by agreement, to $5,000. At the case's conclusion, attorney billed client for $35,304 after crediting the client the $5,000 retainer paid. Client paid only $5,000 on the outstanding balance.

After failing to collect all of his fees, the attorney sued the client for nonpayment. The client argued that because the written contract did not explicitly state whether the parties had agreed to an open account or a flat, maximum fee, the contract was ambiguous and therefore, a fact issue existed regarding the contract terms.

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