Bases of lawyer’s fee

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Persida Acosta

Dear PAO,
I filed a civil action for damages against one bus company when one of its units hit me last March 2016. As a result, I was confined in the hospital for almost one month. I engaged the services of Lawyer X when I filed a claim for damages against the bus company. The court rendered judgement in my favor and ordered the bus company to pay me a certain amount. My lawyer requested that I pay him 30 percent of the amount recovered as this was allegedly indicated in the contract that I signed. I think this amount is excessive. Is there any law limiting the fees to be paid to lawyers?
Amber

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Dear Amber,
Pursuant to Canon 10 of the Code of Professional Responsibility, “A lawyer shall charge only fair and reasonable fees.” In relation thereto, Rule 20.01 of the same code provides that a lawyer shall be guided by the following factors in determining his fees:

The time spent and the extent of the services rendered or required;

The novelty and difficulty of the questions involved;

The importance of the subject matter;

The skill demanded;

The probability of losing other employment as a result of acceptance of the proffered case;

The customary charges for similar services and the schedule of fees of the IBP [Intrgrated Bar of the Philippines] chapter to which he belongs;

The amount involved in the controversy and the benefits [gained by the]client from the service;

The contingency or certainty of compensation;

The character of the employment, whether occasional or established; and

The professional standing of the lawyer.

In your case, since there is a contract signed between you and your lawyer, the stipulated terms and conditions must be followed, otherwise the lawyer shall collect reasonable fees with due consideration to the above-enumerated factors. In the case of Masmud vs. NLRC (G.R. No. 183385, February 13, 2009; ponente, former Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura), the Supreme Court stated:

The retainer contract between Atty. Go and Evangelina provides for a contingent fee. The contract shall control in the determination of the amount to be paid, unless found by the court to be unconscionable or unreasonable. Attorney’s fees are unconscionable if they affront one’s sense of justice, decency or reasonableness. The decree of unconscionability or unreasonableness of a stipulated amount in a contingent fee contract will not preclude recovery. It merely justifies the fixing by the court of a reasonable compensation for the lawyer’s services.

Applying the decision in your case, the only instance where the stipulated fees in the contract will not be followed is when the same will be found by the court as unconscionable or unreasonable. Hence, the terms of the contract will not be in control and the court will have to fix a reasonable compensation for the services of the lawyer.

We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to dearpao@manilatimes.net.

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