Jeff On Call: Partial-Payment Check = Full Fee?


Q: Can I cash a partial-payment check and still collect the full fee?

Usually, but not always.

Welcome to the little-known area of first-year contract law called accord and satisfaction. There is usually only one case covering accord and satisfaction in the casebook, so most law students don’t study it in detail.

A legal accord is the compromise of a disputed claim. This can be expressed or implied.

Expressed in a letter, a “payment in full” statement on the front or back of a check, a formal release of all claims, or just an oral agreement. It is implied by circumstances demonstrating the parties agreed, although they didn’t write or say a word.

The most commonly expressed accord is a partial payment check that reads “payment in full” with some reference to the transaction (invoice number, candidate’s name, or whatever) on the front or back of the check.

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When you cash that check, most cases find the satisfaction has occurred. However the cases are not absolutely clear, since the words are not always simply “payment in full.”

Allegedly expressed oral agreements and implied accords cause problems because you can’t prove you didn’t agree to accept a check as payment in full when you cashed the check — the satisfaction completing the mini-contract of accord and satisfaction that extinguishes the original fee contract.

If you get one of these situations, consult with a local collection agency or lawyer before cashing the check.


To participate in future Q&As, email Keep in mind you should always consult with your own attorney. Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice. It is for your information only.

More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at


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