Attaining legal representation costs money, and some lawyers give better rates than others depending on their caseload and what practice area a particular lawsuit falls into. The truth is some clients just don’t know exactly what it is they are supposed to be paying. So, when they get a bill that may seem like it’s too much, they overlook or ignore it and pay it anyway. Many folks do this because they don’t want to start switching up lawyers after one attorney has already been working on their case. Others pay the sometimes outrageous fees because they simply don’t realize that they are probably getting overcharged.
To be sure that your lawyer’s bill is kept to where it’s supposed to be, the State of California’s Bar has what is called a Fee Arbitration Program. If a client requests it, the lawyer has no choice but to comply. How it works is a third party (the arbitrator) listens to both sides of the story about the fees that are owed to or should be reimbursed from the attorney. It can take a few months for the process, but is worth it if you feel like you are being taken for too much money. It’s usually a very low cost process as well.
Unethical lawyers have many ways of drying out your pockets. Sometimes they will have you paying extra money by over staffing your case with multiple lawyers that you really don’t need. Some of them charge more than their actual hourly rate for other expenses when they aren’t supposed to. Still there are others who’ll go out of their way to find even more creative means of attacking your wallet or purse for extra unearned dollars, like by adding unneeded ‘expert’ witnesses, way too many extra travel expenses, and excessive operating costs like heating or cooling their law firm offices. There was one lawyer named Jan Horak who learned a hard lesson in spring of 2014. The 58-year-old would complete very easy tasks (like leaving phone messages or receiving mail), then charge his clients well over $6 per minute for doing them. He charged one client over $35 just to fax his bank info, then another $65 to send out a receipt. Lawyers Weekly reports that Mr. Horak is now banned from practicing law. With all of the money that he illegally stole from his previous clients he probably stashed away enough cash to last him until around 2020, which is the next time he’ll be allowed back inside the courtroom as an attorney.
The moment you feel that you want to take action against your attorney for legal fees that are just way too high, call and write them immediately. Again, in California it’s a mandatory thing for the lawyer to attend arbitration – either that or face the consequences. The State Bar Association takes these types of accusations of overcharging clients seriously, seeing stealing money as a huge strike against a lawyers’ professional ethics. The experienced legal malpractice attorneys at Makarem & Associates can help you immensely with any fee dispute cases, and can be reached at 310.312.0299 or by email at [email protected].