Saturday, September 19, 2009

Better get 2 lawyers

Do you ever need a lawyer to protect you from your lawyer?

I was talking with a woman in rural western Illinois whose 46-year-old son got a ticket for DUI in the Davenport, Iowa area a while back. To me the charges sounded a little fishy. He got a court-appointed attorney; in fact, he had two of them.

I don't know what was wrong with the first one, but the second one told him to "just plead guilty and get it over with." Just the kind of lawyer you want on your side; right?

The woman had received a $5,000 settlement for an automobile accident, and she parted with it so that her son could retain a private attorney who said he would represent her son for that amount.

The son's trial was last week. Three cops testified against him. He was found Not Guilty.

When he went to retrieve his driver's license, he was told they were not going to give it to him until he completed a DUI class. And he was told he had to pay $500 for the bill of his second court-appointed attorney.

Something definitely smells in Iowa; right? If you are found Not Guilty, why wouldn't he be able to just pick up his driver's license and go? If he is not guilty, why would he be required to attend a DUI class? Or pay the cost of a court-appointed attorney?

I told her to tell him to go back and present a written demand for his driver's license. Deal with the highest supervisor and be sure to get the name(s) and any reasons they give for refusing to return his license. If they continue to refuse, I suggested that he go to the judge's courtroom and wait until the judge asks him why he is there. Then ask the judge to order the return of his driver's license.

But wait - there is more. For relatively little work, his privately-paid attorney scarfed up a $5,000 fee. I told her to have her son sent a letter to the attorney and request an itemized billing, listing the exact number of hours (and portions thereof, in tenths of an hour) that he put in on the case and his hourly rate. Some attorneys like to bill "an hour for this; an hour for that", when really all the time they had in it was 5-15 minutes. Never accept billings in whole hours!

I explained that her $5,000 would most likely be considered a "retainer", not his fee. And that her son and she would be entitled to a refund of the unused retainer.

If she feels she was ripped off, then she can file a complaint against the attorney with Iowa's equivalent of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).

Clients of lawyers (and of doctors, CPAs, dentists, etc.) should request clear explanations, in advance, of how costs will be incurred, including hourly rates for the lead attorney, for secondary attorneys, for paralegals and secretaries, and for court time and for office time.

And never be bashful or afraid to ask questions about your statement for fees, expenses and charges!


Another Lawyer said...

Wow, shocking. Somewhere, somehow you don't think a lawyer taking a case to trial... that lasted a week, and was successful ... somehow in some world somewhere wasn't worth $5,000.

You believe that the lawyer somehow did not spend in the neighborhood of 40 hours, preparinging for a week long trial, and then spent a week at trial.

You believe that a private attorney who made a "deal" to take the case for $5,000, that was the agreement according to your blog, somehow should account for his hours, and that the deal could not have possibly been for a flat fee.

Wow, I am just stunned.

Imagine this. If I contracted to build two decks for $2,500 each on a house, then designed and completed those decks in a week ... would I owe the homeowner some sort of accounting for the work?

To be honest, it is these ideas and some of your views that I share with respect to the "legal system" that have me strongly considering moving to other more profitable and less soul destroying work. I think that feeling comes from being squeezed from both ends of the toothpaste tube.

Gus said...

Who said that lawyer spent a week in the trial? Probably 30 minutes and another 30 minutes for preparation.

It's important to have a fine, educated, qualified, top-notch, experienced attorney, but $5,000 for 1-2 hours' work?

A pro costs more per-hour and is worth it. But not $2,500/hour.

Anonymous said...

Iowa coppers are a bunch of crooks... I got pulled over there last year for allegedly doing 70 in a 55. "Allegedly???" Nope... I WAS doing 70! Even after offering the officer a beer (ala Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard), he still wrote me up for $135. At least I got to keep the rest of my 6-pack.

Another Lawyer said...

I did misread your post. My apology. I thought the trial lasted a week.

That said, you have experience with how long it takes to resolve matters in the system. Numerous court dates, motions, etc.

I still think you are not valuing the work appropriately, and are minimizing the amount of time spent on a case, to an extreme.

Also, you should remember that lawyers are on rare occasions, in a no-win situtation: If they win the trial (the client feels anybody could have won that trial, because they "felt" not guilty); and if they lose, they lost a case they should have won (because the client "felt" not guilty).

Just a thought