Can an e-mail serve as a binding contract?

UPDATED: Nov 12, 2011

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Can an e-mail serve as a binding contract?

Friend called attorney due to numerous car problems and they asked for copies of prior repairs for review. Lawyer replied by email with instructions and fees, and stated that if she did not agree, to reply in writing. If nothing received within 10 days, they would assume contract was OK. She did not see the email and now they say she owes $3500, even if she does not pursue the issue. She never met the attorney or signed any contracts. Can they hold her responsible based on an email notification? They did write a letter to car manufacturer for which she is willing to pay a fee to cover that time.

Asked on November 12, 2011 under General Practice, Illinois


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

An e mail cannot serve as a binding agreement in and of itself. However, it can be evidence of an agreement, oral, written or implied in fact.

The problem with an e mail is that most people assume that once sent, the person to whom it is sent reads it within a reasonable period of time and that it has reached its intended recipient.

For there to be a contract, there has to be an offer, acceptance and consideration for the contract. Under most states in this country, the state bar for each state requires that for legal services exceeding $1,000, the attorney must have the client sign a written agreement for services to be rendered. In your situation, it seems that the attorney should have received a signed agreement from your friend before legal services were started.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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