Ask A Lawyer: Can I Negotiate My Debt Owed To My Attorney?

Question:

How can I negotiate my debt owed to my divorce attorney? When my divorced was finalized, I was left with a huge bill owed to my lawyer. I’m currently unemployed and have asked my divorce attorney to accept a lesser amount in an effort to satisfy my debt to him. Do you have any advice on how to negotiate?

 

Answer:

Your debt to your attorney for your legal fees is just like any other debt, you can attempt to compromise the debt to a lesser amount paid promptly or you can seek bankruptcy protection to address the payment or elimination of the debt.  As your divorce lawyer should be well aware of your financial circumstances, you should be able to discuss a reasonable payment plan or compromise in a direct manner.  As a practical matter, if the attorney is part of a firm such that the debt is owed to the firm, not the individual lawyer, the options for negotiation may be limited based upon the firm’s policies.  It is not unheard of for independent attorneys (sole practitioners) to take payment in goods or services, although any such payment needs to be fully documented for tax purposes.  Once the lawyer sues for collection and obtains a judgment for the debt, the lawyer, just like any other creditor, may pursue garnishment or liens to collect the debt. 

 

Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.

Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues. 

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