In billable hour cases, Burstein said he takes a retainer and requires the client to replenish the retainer at certain points so he's always significantly ahead of the client on fees, he said.
"The simple rule is this: I would never think about suing a client for fees unless I was owed a significant six-figure amount. And the way I run my practice, that's almost impossible," Burstein said.
Wasser, from Phillips Nizer, said that before suing, the firm would consider the amount owed, any good faith efforts made to pay and the quality of the relationship with the client.
Most of the time the firm has filed collection suits, it recovers most or near the amount it was seeking, said Wasser, chair of the firm's finance committee, which authorizes every fee suit.
While his firm has taken part in the courts arbitration program, Wasser said the process is slow because of volume and it can take months for an arbitrator to be assigned and a conference to be set.
He noted that most law firms today send partners daily emails on billing and collections.
"There's more pressure in general and more oversight," Wasser said.
Solo practitioner Sanford Young, who represents clients in fee disputes with their former attorneys, said some firms are very deserving of the funds they are seeking, while others are not. Most of the fee disputes he handles arise from matrimonial cases, he said.
"There are many cases in which firms overcommitted. They did things in the case and put in time and effort that was not commensurate with what the case was worth and deserved," Young said.
@|Christine Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.