Bleeding in the legal world refers to law firms that try to "bleed you dry" for every last penny they can get out of the case. It's really a great unknown as far as the public goes and most Judges won't do anything about cutting a lawyer's bill as long as it is itemized, no matter how ridiculous it is.
The other day I got a call from a nice guy who was looking for a custody attorney. He had spent more than $10,000 with a local firm that markets itself as a "father's rights" law firm. He felt that they hadn't really done anything to earn than money. $10,000.00 is a lot for a case, but not shocking so I looked further to see what they had done. Turns out that they haven't even been to court yet as the baby is not even born!!! This is the worst example of bleeding I've ever seen.
A close second was a law firm in Chicago that charged a client over $50,000.00 on a case to defend a civil lawsuit. The client consulted with another attorney who pointed out that the case should not even have been brought in Illinois because the actual issue happened in another state. This firm probably could have had the motion thrown out right away, but the client was a whale so they went after the big bucks. It's probably a legal malpractice situation.
Family law is definitely the area of law where bleeding occurs the worst. I've seen cases where one spouse has a legal bill of $70,000.00 and the other spouse has a bill closer to $30,000.00 even though the hourly rates of the attorneys are exactly the same. That's just fraudulent work. The worst is when there are bleeders representing both parties and the lawyers drag the case on, blaming the other side for not being able to settle. I once had two divorcing spouses both come to me because they were so sick of their attorneys who wouldn't get anything done.
So what are the signs of bleeding:
1. You give a law firm a high retainer fee, yet they have burned through it in the first month.
2. You are being billed for things like research that involve issues that don't seem like they need to be researched, e.g. a family law attorney shouldn't be looking up custody laws.
3. The bill you are provided shows work lasting way longer than makes sense. e.g. you were in court for five minutes, but got billed for three hours which includes prep time.
4. Your bill shows that you were charged 30 minutes for a phone call that you were a part of and you know it only lasted for ten minutes.
5. Clerks and para-legal work is being "checked" by a lawyer and you are charged for it.
6. Work done by clerks are being charged as if they are done by lawyers.
I'm probably leaving a lot out, but these are the biggies. So how do you stop it? It's not easy because these attorneys are skilled at ripping people off. And if you don't pay your bill they will drop you. Some corporations employ services that audit legal bills, but that's not a realistic option for most consumers. Some things I would try before I hired an attorney include:
1. Demand monthly itemized statements. If you are going to get bled, hopefully you can stop it before it gets out of hand.
2. Tell the lawyer you've heard about attorneys bleeding the file and that you are concerned about it. When they know that you know, it may subconsciously stop them from behaving badly.
3. Before you hire the attorney, ask to see a bill from a past client. They might not provide one for confidentiality reasons, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
4. Talk about how their charges work, e.g. what should I expect to be charged for a court appearance? Ask for an estimate of the case cost with and without trial. Hold them to these estimates if they start to get off base.
This is really one of the most immoral things that attorneys do and get away with. With pressures to make billable hours and to make a lot of money, I guess some justify it in their mind, but it is really ridiculous and to be honest, it will probably never be stopped. Hopefully it can be slowed. The best thing you can do to stop a bleeder is to warn anyone that asks you about that lawyer. Even if you got a good result, if it comes from bleeding, it was bad lawyering.
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