This is for my Anglo American friends and for the Expats’ Community in Italy: here I am going to deal with a delicate issue, i.e. the payment of a lawyer’s fees.
As you may have learned the hard way, Italian Lawyers are unfamiliar with the idea of hourly fees. A good reason for this, might be found in the small size of Italian Law Firms, generally speaking. When the fees are calculated on an hourly basis everything works well if the lawyers of the same office are all working through time-sheets; on the other hand these latter become irrelevant when you are dealing with a solo-practitioner’s Office either with a small Office of 2-3 persons (where nobody else cares about the time spent for a Client if not the owner).
The Reform Act 2006 of Lawyer’s fees (art. 2233 of the civil code, III alinea) states as follows:
“The arrangements between the attorneys, the legal practitioners and their Clients laying out the payments and the fees, are void if not agreed in writing “
The ethical rules of Lawyers (Ethic Code for Lawyers, issued by the Law Society Consiglio Nazionale Forense on May 3, 2016 art. 27.2) provide a general duty of information for the Attorneys when they get instructed. All Lawyers are subject to an ethic (and legal) duty of information to their Client on the actrivities to be axpected and on their cost.
” Easy” you may say, “all I have to do is asking for a well written retainer’s agreement and for a thorough information of the potential activities to be performed”.
Easy, in fact, but not so much.
The aforementioned articles were subject to a number of Courts’ decisions, orders, case law, the Moral of it all being as follows: in the absence of a written agreement between the parties, the tariffs issued annually by the Ministry of Justice (of which you have no idea when instructing your lawyer, of course) will apply.
Consequently you can be exposed to a payment of thousand unknowingly and this is not fair at all, from my point of view. Of course, you can always file a claim with the Local Law Society for the lack of information, but in the meantime you might be forced to pay for something you never expected and did not want.
What should I do, when I hire a Lawyer?
1) ask for a retainer agreement that clarifies the potential total amount that you will have to pay in the worst case scenario. Ask that this total be divided into stages (e.g. stage 1 for the phase of mediation -if any; stage 2 for the petition- stage 3 for the discovery, stage 3 for the final pleadings etc.). Fees can be as well calculated by the hour if you like (ask for a quote of the Attorney’s hourly fee if they have) in times of modern communications this can be a good idea, because you can keep records on your phone and email box of all the activities which have been done for you. For instance, you may ask to be charged only for one Time Unit (6 minutes) for every communication either for a maximum of 3-4-5 hours for every written defense. Not every lawyer will accept to be paid on a hourly basis. But you can make your choice.
2) if you don’t master Italian well enough do not hesitate ask for this contract to be written in your native language; I would never agree to sign what I cannot fully understand. If a translator is not available in the Lawyer’s Office take the Retainer’s Agreement home and have it translated.
3) be prepared for a request of down payment, which should ascend to a maximum of 10 hours’ work, or one third of the total fees. Also, the Court’s Entry Fee (i.e. a Governmental Tax) is now quite high. From a minimum of 360 Euros to a maximum of Thousand depending on the complexity/value of the case. A proceeding for a case which is worth One Million Euros will cost you more than filing a Complaint for a Fine in the Justice of Peace’s Office.
4) eventually, ask for a copy of this contract to be returned to you once signed by the Lawyer.
4) Be confident: Italian Lawyers are good guys, generally speaking
Ma… patti chiari amicizia lunga.