One. Overbilling. This is probably the most common way lawyers cheat their clients. And unfortunately, it also the most difficult practice to detect. Overbilling occurs when a lawyer abuses his time sheet. This is most prevalent when lawyers at large firms are billing big businesses, but it occurs in law firms across the boards, and to clients of all shapes and sizes. Lawyers round up when counting their billable hours. They bill for phantom phone calls and meetings that never took place. When two lawyers in the same firm get together to discuss your case, they bill you for both their time - even if half that time was spent discussing the latest acquisitions by the New York Mets. Overbilling is, of course, a serious offense, and if you suspect that it is occurring you should not hesitate to bring it to your lawyer's attention, or if need to be, to the attention of the state bar. Legal fees are high enough as it is; you don't want to spend more money for hours never put into your case.
Two. Hidden fees. Read your retainer agreement very carefully. Some lawyers take advantage of the boilerplate language and charge clients for costs they never anticipated paying. In most cases, you should not be paying your lawyer's Westlaw bill, and most lawyers don't charge for photocopies and faxes. Make sure you know precisely what expenses you will be paying to your lawyer prior to entering into your contract.
Three. The Non-Written Retainer Agreement. Some lawyers lure you into the office, and lead you to believe that the initial consultation is free. They might even offer to write a letter or make a few phone calls on your behalf. They won't mention a word about payment. And then you receive a bill for services in the mail. It is usually around a thousand dollars. First of all, do not pay it. This is a despicable practice that is growing in popularity among lawyers. If it happens to you, file for a fee arbitration and then follow with a grievance. Let these lawyers know they cannot get away with such fraudulent behavior.
Four. Settling your case when it is not in your best interest. Many personal injury lawyers want to avoid litigation at all costs. It is much easier for them to accept cases and quickly settle them, rather than go to trial. In looking out for their own interests, many of these personal injury lawyers cheat their clients out of thousands, even tens of thousands, of dollars. Do not give your lawyer authority to settle your case if you do not feel it is proper. Of course, some cases are indeed ripe to settle. If you are unsure, get a second opinion, or educate yourself on injury law as much as possible.