Thursday, June 05, 2008

Contracts, Retainers - Getting Paid by Attorneys

We have had many discussions with our newsletter readers about 'getting paid' by their attorney clients. Rosalie addressed this most recently in "Expert Question on Being Retained". One issue she addresses is the signatures on the expert's engagement agreement. I received the following email in response to her advice in that article:

"Your message is right on point. I was recently engaged by a criminal lawyer to help defend a client against a DUI and manslaughter charge. The lawyer sent me a $2,000 retainer and a signed contract, but I carelessly ignored the signature on the contract as it was signed by the mother of the defendant instead of the lawyer.

As a result of my testimony, in a jury trial, I was able to help the defendant get free of the manslaughter charge which could have meant 10 years in jail. However, the lawyer for the defendant still owes me a large amount of money for my expert witness work and that lawyer has ignored payment on my invoices. I will probably end up taking him to small claims court.

In summary, I will carefully review, not only my wording in future retainer contracts, but also the signed signatures, by the other side, on the contract."

This not getting paid is too common a problem for expert witnesses!


Crane said...

Regarding contracts--when scheduling time to appear at a trial, past clients have given me the week of the trial many months ahead of time, then scheduled a particular day several weeks ahead of time. This tends to work. However, I have a new client who has asked that I set aside a whole week for his trial in mid-December even though I will be testifying only one day. My schedule is too packed to set aside a whole week with no guarantee of getting paid for any of it. The SEAK contract template suggests charging 100% of the trial fees for same day cancellation and partial % for one or two day's notice. This doesn't appear to be sufficient notice to protect my availability for other clients who may pay for that time. What do others do protect their availability?

Mr. Franchise - Kevin B. Murphy, B.S., M.B.A., J.D. said...

It's a good idea to get not only the initial retainer (and apply it against the first billing/billings) but also provide when the retainer is gone or nearly gone it will be replenished (and increased) within X-days of notice. Do this and bill frequently, at least twice a month. Finally, have your retainer contract provide for a testifying retainer in an amount you determine prior to going to court. These simple provisions, as long as you adhere to them, will minimize future billing issues.