Watch out for improper, illegal attorney billing practices – Times-Standard
Today’s story deals with billing practices that may violate ethical rules that apply to lawyers across the country.
If you’ve hired an attorney recently or in the last few years and you still have the required paperwork, be sure to pull out the retention agreement and accounting sheet before reading.
Look for this type of language under Cost:
“$ 50 scan / save file fee; $ 75 file / cost maintenance fee; $ 75 for long distance toll calls / faxes; $ 75 initial data entry. “
If you’ve been charged a fee for this matter, especially long distance calls, depending on which state you live in, you may have been overwhelmed.
You may recall that in the 1980s a call from California to New York was over 30 cents a minute. However, in recent years long distance charges have disappeared.
And when was the last time you actually sent a letter? Stamp licking has been almost entirely replaced by email, both personally and professionally.
Ask for evidence – stonewalled
For example, let’s say your attorney’s bill shows a $ 75 “Long Distance Fees and Postage” charge. They know this just can’t be, but imagine asking for evidence that these charges were actually incurred and you are stonewalled. They cannot produce any evidence because these allegations did not exist.
You would feel cheated and ask yourself, “How many other customers have you done this to?”
And that is exactly what Brittany Zuniga of Fortuna thought after the accounting journal had paid the $ 75 long-distance / postage fee for her personal injury case, plus an additional $ 75 for file and expense maintenance, and $ 50 for scanning and postage Saving data included registration fee. “
Not only did she suspect wrongdoing, but she also asked herself, “These things sound like office expenses. Should i pay for it? “
It shouldn’t, according to the State Bar Associations and the American Bar Association.
But there were more that Brittany had every reason to be upset about. And it all started in April 2018 when she was involved in a car accident, needed legal representation, but didn’t know any lawyers.
Saw her on TV
“I called a law firm that advertises on television. It was a big mistake, ”she told me. “They were disorganized, unresponsive, and settled my case and a large hospital bill was not paid. Now I’m in collections. “
Bakersfield Personal Injury Attorney David Cohen explains, “Leaving your client open to be sued for a medical bill is below our standard of professional care. It is a lawyer’s job to clear all the bills and when you have that much money to work with it is often the hardest part of getting hospitals and healthcare providers to compromise, but that’s our job. “
With Brittany’s written permission, I spoke to the senior partner of that company who appears in their television commercials. He denied doing anything wrong and even claimed, “We gave her a discount!”
His guardian asked for a legal fee of a third. The bookkeeping resulted in an attorney fee of $ 10,000 from a settlement of $ 30,000. There was no evidence of a discount or the $ 1,000 he’d offered her to pay the bill.
He also said, “She told us not to pay that hospital bill and give her the money instead.” Brittany adamantly denied this. I repeatedly asked him for written evidence of his claim – something from her that directed him not to pay the bill.
Any attorney who wanted to protect his firm’s reputation would insist on it from a client. He didn’t provide anything.
“Show me evidence that there are $ 75 telephone and postage charges in Brittany.” He could not.
Weigh the fee arbitrator
I have led this situation by attorneys serving as arbitrators and auditors for legal fees.
Aaron Shechet of Los Angeles stated, “If the withholding agreement provides that actual costs can be charged and those costs are not incurred, then the customer’s charge is fraud and can be considered theft. If they charge $ 50 to store files, but just put the file on a 2-cent CD and keep it in a drawer, that’s a theft. “
Jim Schratz of Sonoma, Calif., Qualified as a legal fees expert in both state and federal courts, said, “In my experience as a fee auditor and arbitrator for legal fees for over 25 years, I would not allow this calculation. You need documents for fees.
“In addition, it is inappropriate to close a case with medical bills outstanding so that the customer remains exposed. It’s a shame that lawyers do things like that instead of just providing first class service to their clients, ”he concluded.
Brittany files a complaint with the California State Bar Association that may require this law firm to repay thousands of clients for these unreasonable charges.