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Could your lawyer have cheated on you on your bill?

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Today’s article is about billing practices that may violate ethical rules that apply to lawyers across the country. Before you read on, if you’ve hired a lawyer recently or in the past few years and still have the documents, pull out the service contract and the ledger sheet. Look for this type of language under costs:

“$ 50 file scanning / storage fee; File management fee / cost of $ 75; $ 75 long distance phone calls / faxes; $ 75 initial data entry. “

If you’ve been billed for these things, above all for long distance phone calls, depending on the state you live in, you may well have been overcharged.

In the 1980s, a phone call from California to New York cost over 30 cents one minute. However, in recent years, long distance charges have almost completely disappeared.

And when was the last time you actually did job a letter? Stamp licking has generally been replaced by email, both personally and in business.

Let’s say your lawyer’s bill shows a fee of $ 75 for long distance toll charges and postal charges. You know that just can’t be the case, but imagine asking for proof that these charges really were brought, and you find yourself stranded. They can’t prove because those charges didn’t exist.

You would feel cheated asking yourself, “How many other clients have they done this to?” “

And that’s exactly what Brittany Zuniga of Fortuna, Calif., Thought after the tally sheet for her bodily injury case included a $ 75 charge for long distance and postage as well as another $ 75 “as administrative fees and cost management”, more a “$ 50 scan and storage fee for files.”

In addition to suspecting malpractice, she wondered, “These things look like office overhead. Do I have to pay for this?

She should not, according to state bar associations and the American Bar Association.

But there was more that Brittany had every reason to be upset. And it all started in April 2018, when she was involved in a car accident, needed legal representation but didn’t know a lawyer.

“I called a law firm that advertises on television. It was a huge mistake, ”she told me. “They were disorganized, did not respond and settled my case, leaving a big hospital bill unpaid. Now I am in the collections.

Bakersfield Personal Injury Lawyer David Cohn, after being briefed on Brittany’s situation, said: “Leaving your client exposed to lawsuits for a medical bill is below our standard of professional care. It’s a lawyer’s job to pay all the bills, and when you have little money to work on, getting hospitals and health care providers to compromise is often the hardest part. of the case, but that’s our job.

Brittany didn’t know it at the time, but she hired what’s called a personal injury settlement factory. These are high volume law firms with one goal in mind: mass produce settlement of injury claims using advertising campaigns to gain customers.

And we’ve all seen their TV commercials. Of course, not all companies that advertise are factories, and in my town there are a number of highly skilled personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers who advertise. So my recommendation is to hire locally, if possible – where clients can actually meet their attorney. You can’t do that with many of these lawyers in the settlement factories, which are often hundreds of miles away.

With written permission from Brittany, I spoke with the senior associate of this company – who appears on their TV commercials. He denied doing anything wrong, even claiming, “We gave him a discount!”

Truly? His down payment demanded attorney’s fees of one-third of the settlement amount. This is typical for personal injury cases that settle before legal action is filed. If the settlement is reached after a complaint is filed, but before trial, the costs can go up to 40%. Once the trial begins, 50% is common. In this case, accounting showed attorney fees of $ 10,000 on a $ 30,000 settlement, or one-third. In other words, no discount.

It is important to note that attorney fees are negotiable. Often times, unscrupulous companies will almost immediately take legal action – even if there is no question of liability – so that they can claim higher costs. This is generally considered inappropriate.

As well as claiming he gave Brittany a discount, he also said: “She told us not to pay that hospital bill and give her the money instead.” Brittany categorically denied this. I repeatedly asked her for written proof of her claim, something from her telling her not to pay the bill.

“Any lawyer wishing to protect the reputation of his firm would insist on this point from a client,” commented Bakersfield labor and employment lawyer Jay Rosenlieb.

When I asked, “Would you like to show me proof that you incurred $ 75 in telephone and postage costs?” charges for Brittany ”, the lawyer could not.

I have handled this situation through attorneys who serve as adjudicators and attorneys’ fees auditors.

Aaron Shechet, of Los Angeles, said: “If the agency agreement provides that they can charge the actual charges, and they do not incur those charges, charging the client is fraud and could be considered an offense. flight. If they charge $ 50 for file storage, but all they do is put the file on a 2 cent CD and keep it in a drawer, that’s theft. “

Jim Schratz, based in Sonoma, Calif., Has been qualified as an attorney fees expert in state and federal courts, said, “In my experience as a fee auditor and adjudicator of attorney fees for over 25 years, I would reject this bill. You need documents for all costs.

“In addition, it is inappropriate to close a file with unpaid medical bills, leaving the client exposed. It’s a shame that lawyers do things like that instead of just providing superior service to their clients, ”he said.

Brittany has filed a complaint with the California State Bar Association, which has the power to order the law firm to reimburse thousands of clients for these unwarranted fees.

Schratz offers these recommendations: First, be selective in choosing which lawyer to hire. Consumers should know that these are difficult times for lawyers. They are business-hungry, so don’t be intimidated by a lawyer. You are in the driver’s seat. You’re not going to alienate it if you ask about the deposit or how you’re billed.

Read the service contract carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, like “Is this standard so expensive to open a file?” If you don’t like the answer, say “I’m sorry, that won’t work” and walk down the street to the next lawyer.

And if you find yourself in Brittany’s shoes, looking at an invoice that doesn’t seem right, Shechet suggests the following steps:

  1. First, write a friendly request to the lawyer: “I have a few questions about these elements of the service contract / invoice, can you clarify? See if the lawyer’s response makes sense or is immediately defensive. Be careful if you cannot get in touch with your lawyer directly. A busy lawyer will take the time to call you back or make an appointment (even if not right away). If you can’t get in touch with them directly, then they’ll avoid you for. If you have a bad feeling about the response – or lack of response – trust your gut feelings.
  2. Check if the lawyer has opinions online. Not all lawyers will, but certain areas of law lend themselves to a greater amount of online notice. See if there are any negative reviews complaining about the same issues you are concerned about.
  3. If all else fails and you have concerns about the invoices you receive from your attorney, consult with an attorney who has experience with legal ethics or fee litigation.

Schratz agrees, also suggesting: “If you believe you have been the victim of improper or illegal accusations, go to your state bar and file a complaint.”

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