Hiring an attorney almost always results in an obligation to pay. Bear in mind, that §49 b BRAO forbids attorneys to consult for free. But, how do you know what an attorney can legally collect? Generally, a billing act (Rechtsanwaltsvergütungsgesetz = RVG) sets the fee. The general rule is that the higher the value in dispute the higher the fee. However, it is possible to negotiate for out of court work. Whenever negotiating, offer some kind of help or waive his liability to reduce his fees. This is no guarantee but a start in negotiating. Attorneys can demand reasonable advances – usually the full fee. Below, some of the most typical fees will be shown. Anyhow, it is possible to bill hours for out of court consulting. If you prefer paying by time then ask your attorney if he would mind billing his time. If the one you asked is not so inclined, then try another one.


I visited an attorney the other day. Kind and polite as he was, I did not get a clear answer to questions. He always came up with at least two possible solutions. I thought law is an exact science. Funny, eh?

Following saying tells how exact the science "law" is: "Two lawyers three opinions." In many cases, it is true that you cannot get a clear "white" or "black" as an answer. The gray zone in law is pretty large and as long as you are not in the black zone, you are still legal. This might be disappointing, however, not all situations are really exactly the same – just as much as two persons are not alike.

Since law is so very ambiguous, why do we need lawyers?

Simple: First of all, to determine about where you stand in the grey zone – more towards legality or more towards illegality. Second, to determine how to proceed further in direction of the with or black zone. And finally of course to persuade the opposing side or the judge that you are really on the right side of the law – in contrast to an opposing opinion.

Can I hire an attorney to fight for my rights? And will I get my money back?

It is generally imaginable to hire an attorney and charge his costs to the other side, but that depends if there are grounds for such reimbursement. Supposing there are grounds to charge, then it still depends on whether these costs were necessary. If you directly hired an attorney then his costs might not be chargeable. By “directly”, we mean without first presenting your claim in matters of daily life and talking the matter over with them by yourself. After you present your claims, if the opponent refuses to compensate, then hire an attorney. Your attorney will tell you whose opinion is right. Remember, in Germany, it is often considered threatening if you hire an attorney. Understand this as a three-level ritual in “conflict settle­ment”: First, you personally argue with your opponents. Second, if that does not help, you threaten to hire an attorney to get your rights, and maybe even allow a short period of time to reflect on your threat. Inconsistent people often fall short at this level by not realizing their threat, by not hiring an attorney. As a part of this step, the attorney will put forward his (actually your) arguments. Maybe, after some arguing, the attorney will threaten with the third level: going to court.    

He lost my case even though my lawyer did all he could to win. Now, I do not want to pay him. Will I be able to count on that?

No! He is obliged to invoice you and you are obligated to pay. This is absolutely conforming to German law and understanding. It is generally forbidden for the attorney to waive his bills and not collect on his services (§49b BRAO).

My lawyer turned out to be an idiot. He ruined my case and I lost. Can I collect damages from him? What can I do if he refuses to pay?

I am sorry for your rotten luck. Your lawyer is legally obligated to fight for you with all reasonable means. Since he fouled it up, you can sue him for damages you incurred. However, if you believe he fouled it up by not winning the case, you have no grounds for damages. §49b BRAO forbids attorneys to guarantee a certain result.

I hired a lawyer to get my residence permit. He made a whole lot of commotion, demanding a whole lot of documents, contracts. I paid office fees. In the end, my permit was denied. This stupid lawyer didn’t do anything! I hired him to do all the work and get the permit. I want my money back because he didn’t do his job.

For several reasons: No way! First of all, you did not realize that attorneys in Germany are prohibited from guaranteeing a certain result. Second, you did not understand the function of lawyer here. Lawyers are not magicians; they are service providers in the area of law. Their services are aimed at testing the probability of the case, revising your application, instructing you on the requirements, efforts in persuading the authorities, etc. It is your task to supply your lawyer the required documents and information – as best as possible. When you are considering to give an official a "little gift" or bakshish, then bear in your mind that bribery is illegal in Germany (§§299, 334 ff. StGB). This illegality is not only a formality but is really taken seriously and prosecuted.

As I read in the judgment to my complaint in court, my attorney argued with outdated and overruled arguments. Is my attorney liable for losing the case?

All attorneys have the general duty to go the safest, most economic and using current law. In the above case, he failed to be updated so that he is responsible for your damages. Supposing the safest answer would have been not to file a case in court, you will be entitled to be refunded for all legal costs of the defendant. However, you must first pay the opposing attorney and / or defendant – even though you are entitled to refunding. To enforce the erring attorney, you can hire another attorney to enforce payment if necessary. You could also contact the local Attorney’s chamber and ask them to mediate between you and your lawyer. This is a free service, but it takes a great deal of patience on your part, because it takes a very long time but will not get you any money – only a "black spot" in the attorney's personal file. Visit Bundesrechtsanwaltskammer, the website of the Federal Chamber of Attorneys, to find the chamber having jurisdiction over your case.

I want to sue my debtor for a sum of € 5,100. Do I need an attorney?

Yes, you do (§78 ZPO). In all cases where the value in dispute exceeds € 5,000, you are always required to have an attorney argue your case. So, if you want to sue him for € 200, for instance, you are not required to have an attorney. You need an attorney for all family matters and divorces – no matter what the disputed amount is.

How do I find an attorney located in my area?

There are several ways to do this. You can ask friends, colleagues at work, look in the yellow pages, or try advertisement on expat portals. Last but not least try the LG2G Directory!

How much can attorneys bill for their services?

Generally, as much as you two agree on – within good morals. Starting July 2006, the Law on Remuneration of Attorneys (RVG) legally determining the payment of attorneys, provides that attorney and client are to negotiate the fees for out-of-court services upfront. What you can expect is that attorneys will calculate for supposed time needed. Be sure to first negotiate, and then assign. To complain afterward is not only unfair – but hardly of influence. Following §316 BGB, the attorney will be to determine his fees by himself – as far as is reasonable. “Reasonable” is what can be taken for in-court assignments.

I do not have much money, but I do have a claim to be collected. Can I make a deal with my attorney to give him 50% of what he collects?

It is illegal for German attorneys working under German law to exclusively be paid on what he collects – as this is hidden success fee (§49b BRAO). You can agree on a certain bonus on top of legal fees.

My wife and I, both renters of our apartments were sued by our landlord. As I read our attorney's bill, I read of a surcharge because we were two persons he consulted. That can't be true because he didn't have any extra work what so ever, “we” are only one client.

That is absolutely legal and in accordance with §7 RVG.

I need an attorney to collect money because the opposite side refuses to pay. I have legal insurance. How do I process my claim?

First, collect and select all documents related to your claim. Then make an appointment with an attorney. He might deal with your legal insurance company. Ask your attorney, if he will apply for legal coverage for you. Reckon that this might be charged separately. The value in dispute for this service will be his possible fees in your collection case. Attorneys have done this work as a matter of service for a long time. Especially since the redoing of the statutory fees for attorneys, legal insurance companies have tried to bribe attorney to deals much lower than what the law entitles them. As a rule of the thumb, the bill for obtaining insurance coverage must be significantly lower than the bill for your actual case!

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