Determination of the price by Tribunals

Ruling 501/2023 of 17 April of the Supreme Court refers to the possibility of the Courts to fix the price of a provision of services whose existence is proven, in the absence of evidence, such as a contract.

In its appeal, the plaintiff bases its claim on the fact that the contractual relationship between lawyer and client, even if it has not been formalised in a written contract, generates the obligation to pay the fees corresponding to the services actually rendered. In this line, the judgment underlines that the provision of services by a lawyer is an obligation of means and not of results, and that, therefore, it must be remunerated according to the criteria established by case law and the particularities of the specific case.

The judgment establishes that, once the provision of professional services has been accredited, the dispute is limited to the quantification of the fees accrued. This is essential, as the professional intervention and its value is recognised, regardless of the existence of a formal contract.

It is argued that the price is a structural element of the service contract. Even if a price has not been agreed upon beforehand, it can be determined at a later stage by the court, following criteria of fairness and prudence.

Case law has established weighting criteria for the determination of the amount of fees, including the nature of the case, the economic value, the complexity of the work, and the results obtained. These criteria allow the court to set a fair and reasonable price for the service rendered.

The Civil Code (Art. 1256) prohibits the determination of the price to be left to the discretion of one of the parties. Therefore, in the absence of an explicit agreement, the court is obliged to intervene to establish a fair amount based on the circumstances of the case and the professional usages observed.

The judgment recognises that the professional intervention of a lawyer is not limited to the legal conduct of the lawsuits filed, but also includes the negotiation and out-of-court settlement of disputes. In the specific case, it was shown that the lawyer’s actions contributed to avoiding the judicialisation of the conflict, which justifies the recognition and quantification of his fees.

Finally, the court considers that the fees must be set fairly and prudently, taking into account the specific circumstances of the case, including the duration and complexity of the negotiations and the economic value of the interests at stake.

In summary, Supreme Court judgment 501/2023 establishes that, even if the price for the provision of professional services has not been expressly agreed, the court has the power and obligation to fix it. This is based on the need to recognise and adequately remunerate the professional work performed, ensuring that such determination is fair and equitable, and is based on the criteria established by case law and the particularities of the case.