A Tale Of (Alleged) Lawyer Over-Billing

A recent lawsuit between a law firm and its client has revealed an insight into alleged over-billing by the firm.  The firm, DLA Piper, sued energy industry executive Adam Victor for $675,000 in unpaid legal fees.  Mr. Victor counter-claimed, accusing the firm of fraudulent over-billing.

During the course of discovery, the firm was required to produce a number of emails between its lawyers.  When discussing some of the emails, a story on the suit noted:

“I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a lawyer at the firm.

Another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, replied, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter.

“Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.”

This article comes out just a few days after I was reading an email from another lawyer about what clients want.  Clients don’t want the highest quality legal services they can get.  That would require reading and re-reading every document, deposing every witness, etc.  Instead, what clients want is value.  Clients want to know that they’re receiving appropriate legal services given the nature of the case.

I’ve long seen this in my practice.   I’m often amazed at the sheer volume of work that some attorneys create on a case.  Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive because most of our work is contingent fee work —- we don’t get paid based on the hours spent on the case, instead we get paid as a percentage of our clients’ recovery.   Because we don’t get paid based on hours, the contingent fee encourages us to be efficient — to do the work necessary to get the case ready for trial, but not to create unnecessary work.  In other words, we’re paid for creating value.

That even makes a difference in our hourly cases.  Because of our experience working on contingent fees and doing the real work to create value, we use the same tactics and skills to the benefit of our hourly cases.  For example, I handled a real estate development dispute where the client had a previous law firm.  The large law firm had charged the client almost $30,000.00 for pre-suit investigation and pre-suit mediation.  When that failed, the client went looking elsewhere and was referred to us.  We filed the lawsuit, had a mediation, and resolved the case.  Our total fees for all of that?  Around $3,500.00.

It’s sad to hear stories about this, but at least it is a good reminder for all of us to keep thinking about our clients first and to remember that they want value.  Are we helping them?  That’s the question we should always ask.

Posted on: March 27, 2013 |

Personal Injury News: Help Stop Ambulance Chasing

It’s no secret that those of us who are personal injury lawyers have a bad name.  And one of the biggest reasons is the ridiculous and illegal tactics that many lawyers go through to solicit clients.

In Texas, it is illegal for lawyers or those working on the lawyers’ behalf to make initial contact with clients, either in person or on the phone, in an effort to solicit the client’s business.  Attorneys can solicit clients in writing, but the solicitation can’t be mailed until thirty-one or more days following the accident.  There are other things the barratry statute prohibits, but these are the big ones.

The Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association (I’m a member of both) have each played an active role in getting these statutes strengthened.  We were successful in the 2011 legislative session, helping pass significant legislation that allows for those who are solicited to seek a recovery (including a $10,000 fine) even if the injured don’t enter into a contract as a result of the solicitation.  This fine applies not only to the lawyer, but anyone soliciting on behalf of the lawyer.  This was a huge new change designed to put teeth in the law and discourage this improper behavior.

Only it didn’t.

Yesterday, the Montgomery County district attorney conducted a raid on the law offices of eight Houston-area injury attorneys, including the law office of State Representative Ron Reynolds.   Stories report that the attorneys allegedly entered into a complicated scheme that included chiropractors, case-runners, and more.  You can read about the scheme here.

This is obviously discouraging.  We’ve worked hard to limit this type of behavior, and yet it continues.

I only hope that other prosecutors around the state follow the lead of the Montgomery County DA and try to enforce the laws and deter this illegal conduct.

Junior Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy

It was not surprising to learn that Junior Seau had chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Seau took his own life in May 2012 and shocked a nation already reeling over other similar sports deaths. He was a former National Football League (NFL) linebacker, who took punishing blows to the head during game play. It is not unusual for athletes who participate in contact sports to end up with head trauma.

What is discouraging is that so many good athletes are taking their own lives as a result of playing a sport they love. Were they playing without enough knowledge to make an informed decision about the risks? You may recall various lawsuits launched by current and former NFL players against the League for withholding information that they could suffer brain damage, as a result of sustaining numerous concussions on the playing field. Coaches and the League had apparently known for years of the risks involved, but nothing was done about it.

Samples of Seau’s brain tissue showed he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy; a progressive disease that may only be diagnosed after death. He was a 12-time Pro Bowl champion, who played in 20 NFL seasons. Seau was only 43 when he shot himself in the chest. His frequent head-on-head collisions over the years with other teammates had caused his brain to deteriorate, drastically affecting his ability to think in a logical manner.

Sadly, many suggest that Seau knew that his injuries had caused problems with his brain.  People have speculated that Seau shot himself in the chest to preserve his brain for future research.

The brain damage found in Seau’s tissue samples was similar to that found in the brains of Andre Waters, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling. Waters was a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles; Duerson, a defensive back for the Chicago Bears and Easterling, a safety for the Atlanta Falcons. This is a serious issue, and millions have been committed for more research to address the long-term health and safety of players who participate in contact sports.

While the news of more research to come thanks to an infusion of $100 million from the NFL Players Association is welcome, one wonders why, if many in the NFL and other sports venues already knew about the issue, that no one did anything. Has the world come to the point where playing a dangerous game and winning, at any expense, is more important than the players? Research could have been started a long time ago. Instead, scientists are playing catch up while players still hit the field and hope for the best.

Brooks Schuelke is an <a href=”http://www.civtrial.com/Austin-personal-injury-lawyers/”>Austin personal injury attorney</a> with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an <a href=”http://www.civtrial.com”>Austin injury lawyer</a> at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

Texas employers must report workplace injuries and illness

If you work in Texas, it is the law that employers report all injuries and illnesses.

If you have been injured on the job in Texas, or become ill as a result of conditions in your workplace, your employer is obligated to file an OSHA 300 Log. The log must offer a complete picture of the accident and contain the identity of the worker involved, complete details of the incident, where it happened, what kind of injury was sustained and how many days the worker missed due to the injury.

This section, relating to how many days are missed, is where things get a bit complicated. Although the method of calculation is laid out in 29 Code of Federal Regulations, section 1904.7(b)(2), trying to decipher what it means usually requires the services of an experienced Austin injury lawyer. The guidelines basically cover how to take into account holidays, temporary plant closures, layoffs and weekends. There are often difficulties in assessing the number of days a worker misses, due to how the employer may interpret the regulations. If your injury keeps you off the job for over 180 days, your employer does not need to keep any further records.

Keep in mind that an injury or illness needs to meet certain criteria before it may be filed. For a log to be kept, the injury/illness must be related to work, must be new, not a re-injury, and it must be classified as significant, on the basis of a doctor’s diagnosis. Furthermore, the injury must result in loss of consciousness, medical intervention greater than just first aid, time off work, job restrictions, or a transfer to another job and/or death.

When it comes to significant workplace injuries, medical expenses can be staggering, and any injured worker would likely be looking for a way to obtain compensation. In Texas, there are a number of ways to get compensation, and discussing what those routes are is vital when you reach out to talk to an Austin injury lawyer.

Unfortunately, workers’ compensation does not always provide you with the amount that you deserve, according to the severity of your injury. Additionally, if your injury is the result of someone’s intentional negligence or the result of some form of misconduct by your employer, full financial recovery is possible through filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Brooks Schuelke is an Austin personal injury attorney with Perlmutter & Schuelke PLLC. Contact an Austin injury lawyer at Civtrial.com or (512) 476-4944.

Auto Accidents: Gov. Perry Still Unwilling To Act To Reduce Texting While Driving Deaths

In a very rare showing of bipartisanship, Texas lawmakers are working hard to  come together to craft a statewide ban on texting while driving.  The push is being led by Republican State Representative Tom Craddick.

This is much needed legislation.  I’ve often commented about the number of tragedies we see in our practice because of texting while driving.  Those anecdotal problems are backed up by the studies.  Study after study finds that texting while driving is dangerous, even more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.  (You can see links to some of those studies/articles here.)

Unfortunately, Governor Perry stands as the roadblock in this effort to reduce those deaths.  During the last legislative session, the two parties came together to pass a state-wide ban on texting while driving only to have Governor Perry veto the law.  And this week, after many parents who had lost their kids to texting while driving accidents spent the day testifying about their losses, Governor Perry’s spokesman came out saying that the Governor still opposes this effort to save lives.

It is apparently the Governor’s position that the key to dissuading drivers from texting while driving is information and eduction, not a law.  With all due respect, I think that’s ridiculous.  First, as far as I know, Governor Perry hasn’t proposed any way that we’re going to increase the information or education being provided to drivers.  Second, we’ve proven that education and information doesn’t work.  Texting while driving information is provided as part of driver’s ed curriculum; schools host educational events about the dangers of texting while driving; we’ve had public service announcements about texting while driving.  And yet, the problem and the deaths continue to rise.

On the other hand, long term empirical evidence shows that regulations like this ban help save lives.  Seat belt laws save lives. Driving while intoxicated laws save lives.  And a texting while driving ban would save lives, if Governor Perry would ever allow it.


Auto Accidents: Deaths Of Teen Drivers Jumped In Early 2012

This week, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association released a new car wreck report finding that the number 16- and 17- year old driver deaths increased 19% in the first six months of 2012 compared with 2011.  This is an alarming trend.  After a decade where we saw the fatality rate decrease significantly, this rapid increase is a cause of concern.

The report speculates on a number of potential factors.  Obviously, the most important factor is the increased number of electronic distractions in vehicles — text messaging, phones, etc.   A second factor is economics.  The authors of the study suggest that as the economy has improved then there are more teen drivers on the road.

There is a bit of good news/bad news for those of us in Texas.  The good news is that we actually saw 2 fewer young teen deaths in 2012 than 2011.  The bad news is that we still remain among the “leaders” for most fatalities.  Depending on the count you use, Texas is among the 3-4 worst states in this category.

The lesson is to keep working hard on making improvements.  That ultimately falls to those of us who are parents to continue preach safety to our kids (and perhaps more importantly, to model safe and cautious driving).

What? One Texas Town Will Impose A “Crash Tax” On Car Wreck Victims

I have heard of a number of absurd ideas, but this may take the case.

Starting today, Missouri City, Texas will start charging drivers extra to respond to wrecks.    Drivers involved in a wreck will be charged up to $2,000.00 for first responders, even if those involved in the wreck didn’t call for help.

Missouri City officials think insurance companies, and not crash victims, will pick up the tab, but they don’t appear to be real confident on that point.  Missouri City Fire Chief Russell Sander says drivers shouldn’t be worried because he doesn’t “think they’re going to see much difference in our services or their costs that’s out of the pocket.”

Amazingly, Missouri City isn’t alone.  A number of other municipalities across the country are also charging a similar crash tax.   That trend has been met with some resistance.  Ten states have now outlawed the practice, and bills prohibiting the practice have been introduced in several other states.  Of course, Texas has no such proposal.

Posted on: March 1, 2013 |

Schuelke Law maintains offices in Austin, Texas. However, our attorneys and lawyers represent clients throughout the state of Texas, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Forth Worth, El Paso, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, Round Rock, Georgetown, Lockhart, Bastrop, Elgin, Manor, Brenham, Cedar Park, Burnet, Marble Falls, Temple and Killeen. By Brooks Schuelke

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