Monday, July 31, 2006

Take a Lawyer to Court?

We've been covering the various business practices experts can use to ensure that they are paid by their retaining attorney clients for their services. But what if it's too late to use prevention methods? What if, in spite of it all, they still refuse to pay?

Experts relate little success in reporting this treatment to the attorney's bar association. And I would be leery of suing an attorney, although at least one attorney came out ahead by taking counsel to Small Claims Court when they refused to pay his bill. The attorney agreed to use the expert for all of his cases where that expertise was needed if the expert agreed to settle for one-third of the award granted by the court. He agreed and the attorney kept his word.

Others have found that third-party collectors are sometimes more successful in collecting monies owed than the expert himself. But this is no guarantee either.

I'm hoping some of you readers can help me respond to the question I received below by sharing what has or has not worked in your practice.

"At the present time I am dealing with an attorney/client of rather dubious ethics. His office had contacted me and after I learned of the particulars of the case, I chose to take the case. A review of the Martindale website indicated that this man is an AV-rated attorney. My history with AV-rated attorneys throughout the USA is that they tend to give superb direction, they pay promptly, and that there is transparent two-way communication.

This client retained me in a defense case. The evidence against the Defendant was examined by me and it was my professional opinion that the Defendant could not have done what he had been accused. I was prepared to testify at a hearing, but due to some "legal maneuvering" (not a Daubert or Kumho challenge), I was prevented from testifying. The actual rationale for this apparent suppression has NEVER been made clear to me.

When I invoiced my client for billable hours and expenses beyond the retainer, the net result has been six months of NO COMMUNICATION from him. Multiple certified letters, faxes, and telephone calls have been ignored. His excuse was that, since the outcome of the hearing was not favorable to the Defendant, the Defendant didn't pay him. Therefore, my attorney-client felt justified in not paying me. (The Defendant's name is NOT on our contract.) The sum owed is significant for a small business like mine, yet this sum is "budget dust" for the attorney-client.

This attorney-client is about 200 miles from my location, so I have been exploring ways to extract the delinquent funds from him. The only meaningful advice that is likely to get his attention and/or impact this DEADBEAT client is to sue this fellow in my county/venue. While I have NO EXPECTATION that I WILL EVER be paid, this will force the client to take time to mount his defense here. It is the principle of ethics/fair-play that drives me. No one that I regularly do business with would ever knowingly do this to an expert.

I have indicated to my local attorney-clients that, in lieu of receiving any funds, I'd like to obtain an ethics or a fraud conviction against this client in order that the State Bar Association can REVOKE his license to practice law. In short, no human being should ever be subjected to this alled "Man of Law" again.

I have had many positive experiences providing a wide range of consulting, expert witnessing, investigative services and litigation support for clients throughout this country. Perhaps I was overdue for an experience like the one described here. If other experts have had similar experiences in dealing with INCOMMUNICATIVE DEADBEAT clients, I'd be very interested in how these incidents have been handled."

Can anyone help this expert with creative resolutions or suggestions?

1 comment:

Roger L. Boyell said...

One solution for the non-paying, non-communicative client attorney issue was for me to sue him in Small Claims Court, in his county, filing by mail along with a check covering all filing and courier fees (about $25) there. Shortly I received an official court notice to the effect that the complaint form was being returned as "undeliverable". ?? But the next day I received the client attorney's check for the full amount.