What would this mean for patients and doctors all over America?
For an answer, we turned to an attorney, John Marquess of Haddonfield, N.J., president of Legal Cost Control, Inc.
“It would look just like the legal profession does today,” Marquess replied, “with a dangerous oversupply of attorneys, unnecessary additional law schools being opened, massive unemployment, senior partners losing their jobs and thousands of young lawyers each facing almost $200,000 in student loan debt.
“It would mean that medical decisions would be based on what was good for the doctor, not necessarily the patient, and that is precisely a risk the public faces today when hiring an attorney — even when dealing with the same law firm clients have used for years,” he adds.
“In virtually every legal field, lawyers face crushing competition from too many in the profession. Instead of this leading to better services at lower prices, it is often the opposite, with clients becoming victims of billing practices which we find in so many cases are fraudulent.”
Protect yourself in writing — just like auto repair
“Be it a divorce, will or business matter, you must have a written retainer agreement. And never, never be afraid to add terms which will help keep your attorney from overbilling,” he advises.
“In most states, an auto repair mechanic must give you a written estimate and lets you know if more work is necessary, but lawyers are not generally required to do that! So, think of your case just like a car — you must be given a chance to approve of things which come up.
“For example, you hire A to be your divorce lawyer. Specify that only A will work on the case unless I give permission for someone else. The same thing applies to going to court or a deposition. State that the lawyer cannot take more than one person without my permission.
“Another problem area is overcharging for court appearances. If your lawyer bills at X dollars an hour, but sends an associate who bills much less, you should only pay the lesser rate. So you want to know who made the court appearances, and if you have doubts, this is easily be discoverable from the court itself.
“Also, routine legal matters — city council meetings, board of directors and brief court appearances — these almost always require just one lawyer. If your attorney wants to train the staff — showing new lawyers the ropes — that’s fine, but it is unethical and just plain wrong for you to pay for that,” Marquess adamantly stressed.
“Legal research is another trap for clients. Set a limit of, say $500, or state that no legal research will be performed or paid for without the client’s advance approval.
“When lawyers bill a client for things like ‘discussing your case with my paralegal’ or ‘reviewing your case with my secretary,’ this is a cost of business and should never be billed. Seeing charges for Review of File — especially when nothing is really happening with the case — can result in many hours billed when literally nothing was done. It should always be questioned.”
Small-town America a perfect victim of local firm
“All politics is local and local governments tend to hire local firms to be their city attorney. Often these firms have never had municipal law experience. They make themselves attractive by offering to work for a ‘teaser’ fixed amount and then quickly exceed what they agreed to and their friends on the city council pay them!
“It is a taxpayer rip-off and just shows the contempt these elected officials have for the people they represent,” Marquess finds.
“A city attorney has a fiduciary duty to the taxpayer. A lawyer could get in trouble with the State Bar by offering to work for X and then demand more money later, but often weak city councils are friends of their city attorney and refuse to challenge the bill.
“Another way of bumping up their fees hundreds of thousands of dollars is by suddenly performing the duties of city employees, but charging attorney hourly rates for routine clerical matters that city employees have always done.
“So, when you have a new law firm take over, and the bills skyrocket, you need to assume that something is wrong and demand an audit,” Marquess concluded.