What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Lawyer?

Updated December 14, 2023
12 min read
What Happens If I Don’t Pay My Lawyer?


What happens if you don’t pay your lawyer depends in large part on the reasons why you don’t pay them. What can a lawyer do if you don’t pay them depends on a few factors as well. 

Paying your lawyer’s legal fees is vital to the attorney-client relationship. You deserve competent legal representation, and your attorney deserves to be paid for their legal services. Unless your attorney agrees to represent you on a contingency fee basis, you will need to pay their legal fees upfront, on an ongoing basis, or according to a payment plan.

Many lawyers are willing to work with clients who are willing but unable to pay temporarily. However, if you fail to pay your attorney, they may take legal action against you for the payment of their fees and may drop you as a client. Therefore, it is wise to pay your lawyer according to the attorney-client fee agreement

Reasons When I Can Not Pay a Lawyer

There are usually a few reasons why a client does not pay their lawyer.

  1. The client does not have enough money and cannot afford to pay their lawyer;

  2. The client is upset with the attorney for some reason; or

  3. The client believes the attorney is not competent.

If a client does not have enough money to pay their lawyer, they should talk with their lawyer and explain their situation. Some attorneys will work out a payment plan with their clients. You also could consider borrowing money from a bank, a family member, or a friend to pay your attorney’s fees. Your attorney’s law firm may accept credit card payments as well. 

If none of these options are available to you, you may need legal assistance from local legal aid attorneys. The court is likely to permit your attorney to withdraw from representing you unless doing so would prejudice your case. Remember, the judge is also a lawyer and understands the importance of being paid. 

If a client is upset with their attorney or how the case is proceeding, they sometimes stop paying. This is more likely to occur in a civil case than a criminal case, as many criminal attorneys require upfront payment. However, some practice areas see this situation more than others. For example, family law lends itself to unhappy clients because of the nature of such litigation. 

However, if a client believes they are not working with a competent attorney, they may stop paying the attorney and seek new counsel. Therefore, it is always wise to be honest with your attorney and explain that you intend to terminate the attorney-client relationship. Remember, there can be consequences to not paying attorney’s fees. 

Reasons To Fire Your Lawyer

If you think, “I can’t afford my lawyer anymore,” don’t automatically assume you need to fire them. Instead, make an appointment to sit with your attorney and explain your situation. You may be able to find a mutually agreeable solution.

However, there may be good reasons to fire your attorney. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Your lawyer fails to communicate with you or respond to your calls and emails;

  • You and your lawyer disagree on the best strategy for your case;

  • Your lawyer is inconsiderate of your feelings;

  • You believe your lawyer is incompetent; or

  • You think your attorney has acted in an unethical manner.

Good communication is essential to the attorney-client relationship and a successful outcome for your case. While your attorney is likely busy, they should return your messages within a reasonable amount of time or have a staff member reach out to you. Unfortunately, lack of communication is one of clients’ most common complaints about their attorneys. 

It is critical that you and your lawyer agree on a strategy for your case. Not being aligned on the legal strategy for your case can be a deal-breaker. If you can’t resolve this issue, you may need to part ways with your attorney.

Clients are likely stressed and emotional when dealing with their legal matters. Whether you are going through a divorce and custody litigation, a criminal matter, or another type of case, it may be one of the most stressful times in your life. Good attorneys are sensitive to that fact. However, if your attorney is inconsiderate or disrespectful of your feelings, it may be time to terminate your relationship with them. 

Likewise, if your attorney behaves in ways that make you doubt their competence, you may want to find another lawyer. You deserve to feel confident about your legal representation and don’t need the added stress of wondering if your attorney knows what they are doing.

Finally, if you believe your lawyer is unethical or has acted unprofessionally, it is best to terminate the attorney-client relationship. 

How Much Money Does a Lawyer Make?

When you start to think, “I can no longer afford my attorney,” you may think that lawyers make so much money that they should cut you some slack on their fees. However, the amount of money a lawyer makes is determined by many factors. According to payscale.com, the average salaries for attorneys in the United States vary dramatically across the nation and across the different areas of law. 

Also, it is rare that your attorney personally receives every dime you pay them. They generally have to cover “overhead” such as office space, Internet access, computers, gas for getting to and from meetings, copies, secretaries, investigators, and much more.

Factors affecting the amount of money a lawyer earns

Numerous factors influence the amount of money a lawyer earns. Some things that influence how much an attorney makes include:

  1. The area of law the attorney practices. Some areas of the law bring in more money than others. For example, corporate law attorneys generally make more money than family law attorneys and criminal law attorneys. This is because corporations have deeper pockets than most individuals and can afford to pay higher attorney fees.

  2. The attorney’s location. Some areas of the country have a higher cost of living, and attorneys in those areas generally charge higher fees than lawyers living in rural areas. For example, attorneys in New York may make $1,000 or more per hour, and a lawyer in a small southern town may make $100 or less per hour. 

  3. Whether the lawyer works in a private practice, a government agency, or a non-profit. Generally, attorneys working in private practice make considerably more money than government and non-profit attorneys.

  4. Whether the attorney works solo, in a small law firm, or for a large firm. Large law firms usually pay high salaries and provide plenty of financial benefits. Smaller firms generally pay less than bigger firms, and solo practitioners often earn the least. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. However, for most lawyers, their income is directly tied to the size of their firm.


It is vital to have a good working relationship with your attorney. If you are happy with your attorney but find that you cannot afford to pay them, make an appointment to discuss your situation. Many attorneys will try to work with you by setting up a payment plan or exploring other alternatives to take care of the matter. In criminal cases, the court may be able to help pay your legal fees — depending on your financial situation.

If you do not pay your attorney, they will probably want to withdraw from your case. The court is likely to allow them to withdraw except in rare circumstances, such as when to do so would prejudice your or your opponent’s case.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

If you have any questions or suggestions regarding the product or UX content for Lawrina, feel free to contact Yevheniia directly at y.savchenko@lawrina.org or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if I can’t pay my lawyer?

If you cannot pay your lawyer, the court will usually permit your attorney to withdraw from your case. However, you may be able to work out something with your attorney if you are proactive and explain your situation. If your inability to pay is temporary, most attorneys will set up a payment plan. If you cannot work out an agreement with your attorney and cannot afford to pay another lawyer, you may need to seek the assistance of legal aid.


Can a lawyer drop a client for not paying?

Yes, a lawyer can drop a client for not paying. The court generally understands when a lawyer files a motion to withdraw from a case because of non-payment of their legal fees. However, if the lawyer’s withdrawal would prejudice their client’s case or their opponent’s case, the court will usually not permit the lawyer to withdraw. 


When should I fire my lawyer?

You have the right to fire your attorney any time you want. However, if you can salvage the attorney-client relationship, it may be wise to try and do so. That said, if your lawyer has behaved in ways that you believe are unethical, disrespectful, incompetent, or otherwise unreasonable, you should consider finding another lawyer. 

What is a fee agreement?

When it comes to lawyer’s fees, the Fee Agreement is a vital aspect of the attorney-client relationship. It sets out the terms and conditions for payment, whether it’s upfront, ongoing, or through a payment plan. This agreement ensures transparency and clarity, keeping things on the right track. There are a lot of fee agreement templates available, so you can craft such a document in just 5 minutes without even leaving your home.