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Bushman v. State Bar of California

    Brief Fact Summary. The California State Bar is investigating an attorney for his claim that he spent over 100 hours on a simple divorce case, resulting in a bill of almost $3,000.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Determination of excessive fees must be made on a case-by-case basis.

    Facts. Attorney Bushman was retained by a 16-year-old woman and her parents to represent her in divorce and custody proceedings. The fee agreement included a $5,000 retainer and a rate of $60/hour. His client won her custody suit, and the court ordered her former husband to pay reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of $360. (Bushman had not informed the court of the previous fee agreement.) Bushman than submitted his bill of over $2,800, claiming that he had worked over 100 hours on the case-even though his opponent had spent only a little more than five hours.

    Issue. Was Bushman’s fee excessive under these circumstances?

    Held. Yes. Bushman’s bill was completely unreasonable in this context. Suspended for one year.
    “Under the circumstances, the fee charged by Bushman was so exorbitant and wholly disproportionate to the services rendered to the defendants as to shock the conscience.”


    Discussion. Compare this result to Brobeck. Should a client’s previous wealth and-in the words of the California Rules of Professional Conduct-“sophistication,” be factors in determining which fees are reasonable?.


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