WHEN LAWYERS NEED LAWYERS
(COLLECTION LAWYERS, THAT IS)
BY: Howard B. Weber, Esq.
I don’t practice personal injury law. I don’t do trusts and estates work, immigration law, matrimonial or family law. And yet, we represent lawyers that do. We collect their legal fees–and sometimes their judgments.
Most “PI” attorneys obtain judgments and get paid from the insurance carrier–except when the defendant has no insurance or has inadequate coverage. That’s when we step in, do asset searches, and either levy the judgment debtor’s bank accounts, garnish their wages, sell their autos or boat, lien their house, and hopefully collect the judgment. The enforcement remedies are available to all attorneys reading the CPLR (Article 52), but more often than not, when the legal procedure is outside the scope of your normal practice, you leave it to the expert.
Then there’s the matter of legal fees. Every attorney wants and deserves to get paid for their hard work, but when the client doesn’t do the right thing, many attorneys feel uncomfortable pursuing legal action against their own clients. But by using a collection lawyer, the original attorney has now shifted the focus onto us. We separate you from your client–we become the ‘bad guys.’ And yet, we are very aware that all lawyers like to keep their clients for future business and so we pursue this type of collection with a great deal of courtesy and diplomacy–we try to get the client to understand all the hard work you put in and why payment is imperative. How can a lawyer help us to collect their fees? There should be a solid retainer agreement which also includes the mandatory language about fee disputes (see: New York State Fee Dispute Resolution Program, 22 N.Y.C.R.R. Section 137). Of course even without a written retainer, quantum meruit would entitle you to compensation. It is also prudent to bill the client regularly. Monthly invoices which go uncontested set the stage for a summary judgment action on an ‘account stated.’ We have had great success with summary judgments since the client’s alleged ‘displeasure’ with your services has to be expressed earlier than in the opposition papers.
You’ve worked long and hard developing your skills in your own area of practice–as have we. When I have a client needing help in an area of law in which I don’t practice, I immediately refer them to a colleague who does. When it comes to collecting your judgments and collecting your legal fees, you should do the same. It will give you peace of mind and hopefully increase your bottom line.
© 2010 Howard Weber