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You Should Always Execute a Written Fee Agreement with your Attorney

In Virginia, the relationship between and attorney and client is considered to be contractual in nature. As such, any claim for legal malpractice against your attorney is governed by the statute of limitations for a breach of contract action: three (3) years for an oral agreement and five (5) years for a written agreement. Because of this, whenever you engage the services of an attorney, it is crucial that you execute a written fee agreement outlining the scope of services to be provided.

In its recent decision in Dunavant, Jr. v. Bagwell, the Supreme Court of Virginia emphasized the importance of making sure to execute a formal written agreement with your attorney.

In Bagwell, the Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Mr. Dunavant's legal malpractice claim against his former attorney, Mr. Bagwell, as it was filed beyond the three-year statute of limitations window for an oral agreement.

The Court found that Mr. Bagwell's representation ended in 2010 following the denial of Mr. Dunavant's appeal in his personal injury case. Mr. Dunavant then filed a suit for legal malpractice against Mr. Bagwell in 2014. Mr. Dunavant claimed that the five-year statute of limitations applied to his malpractice claim, but was unable to produce any written fee agreement with Mr. Bagwell. However, Mr. Bagwell testified that while he normally executed a written agreement with his clients, he did not do so in this case, especially given his 60 year relationship with Mr. Dunavant. Because Mr. Dunavant was unable to produce a written agreement, the trial court had no choice but to dismiss his malpractice case as untimely filed.

This case also emphasizes the need to act quickly in retaining counsel for any type of claim, but especially in legal malpractice claims, to allow an experienced attorney to review your case.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss your legal matter with an attorney, please contact The Duff Law Firm for a complementary, 30-minute consultation. (703) 591-7475.

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