Leaderboard 728 X 90

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Massive Law Firm Is Exposed For Overbilling Clients, Shining Light On a Profession's Nasty Underbelly


Jesse P. Evans III
The legal world is aflutter this week over a New York Times report about a large law firm's habit of grossly overbilling wealthy clients. One progressive news site said the story proves that "when the 1 % aren't scamming the rest of us, they are fleecing each other."

But the story does not end there. I know from first-hand experience, and from reporting on cases of other everyday Alabamians, that lawyers make a habit of stealing from non-wealthy clients, too. They just go about it in a little different way.

With middle-class clients, it might not be a matter of direct overbilling. Rather, lawyers will bill steadily while hiding the fact that they are not representing their clients' best interests. Such lawyers have a legal duty to zealously represent the person who is paying them, but instead they are more concerned with the desires of the judge, opposing counsel, the local bar, or maybe all three.

As opposed to "overbilling," you might call this "underlawyering." The client thinks he is being represented--after all, he's paying the bills--but he really isn't. And he's likely to get a lousy outcome, the one chosen for him by what I call "the legal tribe."

Whatever you call them, overbilling and underlawyering amount to glorified theft. And we learned this week that it probably happens in the legal world far more often--and in a much more brazen fashion--than most of us might imagine.

You can rest assured the legal tribe never intended for this issue to make national headlines. But it all started when DLA Piper, which bills itself as the world's largest law firm, sued a New York businessman named Adam H. Victor for $675,000 in legal bills. Victor, an energy-industry executive, fought back by filing a counterclaim and accusing the law firm of a "sweeping practice of overbilling."

Discovery in the counterclaim showed that Mr. Victor was on target. Internal correspondence from DLA Piper revealed lawyers joking about the firm's habit of cheating its own clients. From reporter Peter Lattman, of The New York Times:

Mr. Victor’s feud with DLA Piper began after he retained the firm in April 2010 to prepare a bankruptcy filing for one of his companies. A month after the filing, a lawyer at the firm warned colleagues that the businessman’s bill was mounting.

“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.”

"Churn that bill, baby!" might become the equivalent of "Remember the Alamo!" for citizens who are fighting unscrupulous lawyers. And I know what such a fight is like--I've spent more than 10 years on the front line.

As regular readers know, the legal headaches for Mrs. Schnauzer and me began when a troublesome neighbor named Mike McGarity, he of the extensive criminal record, filed a bogus lawsuit against me over a property-related matter. I hired Jesse P. Evans III, a Birmingham lawyer who is noted for his expertise in property law--in fact, he has written a textbook called Alabama Property Rights and Remedies. At the time, Evans was a partner with the firm of Lange Simpson Robinson and Somerville (now Adams and Reese/Lange Simpson), and he handed much of the work on our case over to a junior attorney named Michael B. Odom.

Evans and Odom since have shuffled over to the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter. Experience has taught me this pair is a con-man tag team, regardless of where they lay their hats.

Did Evans and Odom cheat me by overbilling? No, although their monthly invoices were a major burden on our middle-class finances. But this was a classic case of underlawyering. Evans and Odom went through all of the "motions" (pardon the pun) of making it appear they were representing my best interests. They filed a motion to dismiss and two motions for summary judgment--all of which were denied by corrupt Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner, who now resides on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

It took almost 15 months, but I finally realized Evans and Odom were not really representing me. And they almost certainly were pulling a scam from the outset. What were the signs? I presented pretty much all of them in an e-mail to Michael Odom dated Aug. 15, 2002. (The e-mail can be viewed at the end of this post.)

I wrote the e-mail after I had fired the lawyers from my case and demanded a refund totaling $11,619.16--the full amount I paid Lange Simpson during the course of their "representation." I never received a penny from these high-priced, downtown lawyers, but I had the pleasure of figuring out their game--they simply were going along with a scheme that Judge Joiner had set in motion, along with the neighbor's attorney, the wildly corrupt Willliam E. Swatek.

Michael B. Odom
Here are the two primary signs of underlawyering, as practiced by Jesse Evans and Michael Odom:

*Refusal to file a counterclaim--In my first meeting with Jesse Evans, in January 2001, I told him that the neighbor, Mike McGarity, had built a fence on our property, essentially stealing some 400 square feet of land that belonged to us. It's hard to imagine a more clear case for civil trespass, which needed to be stated in a counterclaim. We also had viable grounds for nuisance and abuse of process, which could have been asserted in a counterclaim. In the early weeks after Michael Odom began working on our case, I questioned him multiple times about the need to file a counterclaim because (1) We needed to seek damages for the wrongs  against us; (2) We needed to make sure we were not in a defensive position throughout the proceedings. After Judge Joiner unlawfully denied our two motions for summary judgment--even though Swatek did not respond with any timely or admissible evidence on either one--I met with Evans and Odom on July 25, 2002, and demanded that we file a counterclaim. They flat-out refused, and that's when I knew they were not working on my behalf--and probably had not been the entire time.

* Filing a second motion for summary judgment--McGarity, via his lawyer Swatek, filed no timely or admissible evidence to counter our affidavits on the first motion for summary judgment (MSJ). Our affidavits were filled with material evidence, countering McGarity's claim of malicious prosecution against me--and under Alabama law, summary judgment had to be granted and the case dismissed. A judge's finding on summary judgment is considered a "nondiscretionary" ruling, and Rule 56(e) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure spells out the process. Case law also makes it clear:

When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing." Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown 631 So. 2d 848 (Ala., 1993).

When Judge Joiner denied our first MSJ--which, by law, had to be granted--Evans and Odom surely knew I was being railroaded, and a second MSJ would be a waste of time and money. But they filed one anyway, and again, it was denied--even though, this time, Swatek made no response whatsoever for his client.

What did this little exercise in legal futility cost me? Well, Michael Odom worked on the second MSJ in December 2001 and January 2002. My bills for those months were $1,204 and $902, respectively--coming to a total of $2,106.

How much did I spend altogether on MSJs? Most of the work on the first one came in August 2001. My bill for that month was $2,312, which means my total outlay on summary judgment motions was $4,418.

What did I get for them? Absolutely nothing. For the same amount of money, or less, we could have filed a counterclaim and conducted discovery that might have forced a settlement. But I now know that Jesse Evans didn't want to file a counterclaim because that, indeed, would have meant discovery--and the judge on our case did not want that.

Joiner, I feel certain, did not want me to become privy to information about how Mike McGarity came to be my next-door neighbor via an under-the-table deal with Briarwood Presbyterian Church and a real-estate agent named Phyllis Tinsley. Judge Joiner almost certainly did not want me to know that the whole scam was executed so that Briarwood Christian High School could offer a sweetheart deal to keep Fred Yancey, its highly successful football coach and our neighbor before he moved to a house on school property--and Mike McGarity entered our lives.

Did Jesse Evans and Michael Odom overbill me, as the DLA Piper lawyers did with Adam Victor? Nope, but they did underlawyer me, charging the hourly rate they had stated, but acting in a way that they knew would get me nowhere.

I've seen similar behavior by lawyers in other cases I've reported here at Legal Schnauzer. Two classic examples are the divorce cases involving Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins and Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt. Ms. Rollins and Ms. Wyatt spent well into the six figures on divorce lawyers, and what did they get? Sherry Rollins wound up with a divorce judgment, thanks to Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson, that was so unlawful and one-sided that she and her two daughters have been on and off food stamps. Bonnie Wyatt received a bogus ruling from Chilton County
Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds that led to her being unlawfully jailed for roughly five months last year. Since her release from jail, she has unlawfully been forced to put her house up for sale.

How is the middle class defined in America these days? I'm not sure, but let's assume it means you have a household income between $35,000 and $75,000. If you fit in that category and someday need legal services--for a divorce, estate matter, personal injury, consumer issue, employment discrimination, you name it--you will be in grave danger of being "underlawyered."

How can you tell if that is happening to you? The following e-mail might provide insight on what to look for. It provides details of how Jesse Evans and Michael Odom mishandled my case--and states my grounds for demanding a refund. It's rather lengthy, and I will spotlight the key points in an upcoming post.

But for now, let's consider this: If you take your car to a mechanic, only to get home and discover it hasn't been fixed, what do you do? You take it back to the mechanic and demand that he fix it, right? What happens if he says you should be content with his sorry performance and refuses to do anything about it? You demand your money back, right?

Jesse Evans and Michael Odom apparently think lawyers are in the rarefied air, above mechanics and all of us regular folks. They think lawyers should be allowed to not do the job you pay for--and still keep your money. That's not how I see it, and here is an e-mail where I made my feelings abundantly clear to Michael Odom.



40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very insightful piece, LS. Thank God, I've never been involved in a court fight. But I feel certain it will come someday. I've bookmarked this post for future reference.

Spasmoda said...

LS, for some reason I get the distinct impression that you don't much care for Mr. Evans and Mr. Odom.

Anonymous said...

I had missed this DLA Piper story in the MSM. Thanks for sharing. "Churn that bill, baby!" is a classic. May the public remember that line when it thinks about the harsh realities of the legal profession.

legalschnauzer said...

Spas:

You are very perceptive. To a great extent, I hold Jesse Evans and Michael Odom accountable for everything that has happened to my wife and me. Had they represented us as they should have when these legal problems started--had they done the job we paid them to do--the rest of the stuff I've written about on this blog would not have happened. In fact, the blog probably never would have gotten started--and Mrs. S and I would have gone on happily about our lives. I'm certainly thankful for the opportunity to blog because I know it's helped a lot of other people. But the whole experience has been damned unpleasant and frightening for us. Mr. Evans and Mr. Odom probably think my case is well in the rearview mirror for them, but they are going to have to answer for their actions at some point.

Anonymous said...

Has your propery related dispute since been resolved in some way? Is the fence still encroaching your property? If so you may want to find a way to tear it down and build it in the proper place. It doesn't sound like by the email that you were able to properly bring it to courts attention. If by 2022 it's still encroaching said criminal neighbor can claim ownership of that encroached 400 sf.

Anonymous said...

I know Jesse Evans, and he looks like he's about to die any minute. He smokes so much that his lungs must be corroded by now. The guy's not all that old, but he looks like he's about 98. And he's a misogynistic old fart, too. Just ask his first wife, who he repeatedly has tried to screw in court. I loathe the man. So glad to read this article that shows just a little bit of what he is really like.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 9:57--

Good questions. The property stuff was resolved long ago. I sent a letter to the neighbor with a copy of a new survey we had done, showing the fence on our yard, and demanded it be removed. The neighbor refused to reimburse us for the expense of the new survey, but he had no choice but to remove the fence. One reason I think he filed the bogus lawsuit was because he was pissed about having to move the fence. He put the fence up as he was moving in, when survey stakes should have been up to clearly mark the property line for his lot. He either was negligent in failing to get a survey, or he intentionally had the fence placed on our yard. Those are issues Jesse Evans should have been pursuing in discovery.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers overbilling and cheating clients? Gee, that's a shocker. Stop the presses!

Anonymous said...

I know Michael Odom, too, although not as well as I know Jesse. Michael is a nice guy, and he knows better than to treat people the way he treated you. But he is Jesse's lap dog. He is trying to ride Jesse's coattails to partner, so he does whatever Jesse tells him.

Jesse is revered by other lawyers because he plays the lawyer game so well. The lawyers and judges all love him because he has this wry sense of humor, a "courtly" way about him. He's a master at ingratiating himself with what you call the "legal tribe." That's his great strength.

You should talk to his ex wife about the kind of husband and father he is. He's a POS in that department, and just about every other department.

legalschnauzer said...

Sounds like I need to look into the Jesse Evans divorce case. Might be quite enlightening, it appears.

DTrain said...

I like your analogy to auto mechanics. If they don't do the job, we expect our money back. Why should it be any different with lawyers?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Shuler:

Jesse Evans normally represents developers--people who build residential neighborhoods, shopping centers, apartment complexes, and the like. That's how he brings in money for his firm. Not sure why he took your case.

Jesse has a good reputation among lawyers, but given what I read in your post, I can understand your unhappiness with him on this matter. Jesse, I'm sure, probably has a different take on things. Perhaps you should interview him. I would be curious to hear what he has to say.

Anonymous said...

TRIBAL-LEGAL JUST-US MEETS REALITY

Who Do We Cheat ‘Em
And, How, slitting-throats-jerking-rugs, sneaks
up, behind-ambushing-truth: Justice~

Legal Schnauzer and the Mrs.,
Grrrrrrr, woof, woof, spirited-leaping-dragon, doggie
MURPHY, beginning-middle-end: WINNERS!!!~

Reality And The Legal Tribe
meet, up, along-the-fence-different, sides
barrier, ended-Murphy-strides: Pounding~

"Churn that bill, baby!" Remembering
The, Alamo, citizens-who-fight-unscrupulous, lawyers
yapping, barking-chasing-biting: STAND~

Murphy Stand And Get ‘Em
‘O, Great, power-invisible-energy-attacking, man
supposedly, a-best-friend: Not.

HOW DID THE WORST OF, LOWER THAN THE WORST OF DOGS, GET TO BE THE “LEGAL TRIBE” THAT “OWNS” US? What to do?

Follow Legal Schnauzer Murphy Spirit

Porn Pom

legalschnauzer said...

I would love to interview Jesse Evans. Don't think it would be a terribly pleasant experience for him. And I doubt he has the guts to face me.

legalschnauzer said...

Great piece, PP. This is maybe my favorite of all your verse.

Anonymous said...

Those DLA Piper lawyers sound like Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon in the movie "Casino Jack." A couple of overgrown, adolescent frat boys. I'm starting to think our political, legal and corporate worlds are overrun with cases of arrested development.

Anonymous said...

we had to deal with one of the largest law firms in Bham years ago handling an estate and we were raped. It was amazing what they charged. If someone called them even for one second 175.00 a call. By the time they got through with a very simple will they had taken a major chunk of the money in the estate. FOR WHAT..nothing no one contested and no one filed anything against the estate. Does the Bible not speak against lawyers? I tell you I could not with a clear conscience represent anyone that I knew was guilty or murder trying to get them found not guilty. I would have to fix it someway to get them convicted but then I would not stoop to that level and be one to start with.

Anonymous said...

I really know ONE lawyer personally that is a nice guy and honest. If you can believe there is an honest lawyer. Tony Snable. Very nice, very caring and very honest. We have used his services for a very long time maybe 30 plus years.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 12:00--

Would love to know the firm that handled your estate case. I'm going to run copies of some of the bills we got from Lange Simpson. I swear, I think if these lawyers think about your case while taking a dump, you get billed for it.

Coyote Lane said...

yes LS, my fav and youngest son the real poet, his fav.

been working on it awhile, Murphy always on my doggie trail, too.

other day, doggie old, couldn't wag tail as used to - called it,

tag wailing, for 100 or thereabouts very cool canine indeed.

PP

postscript: the way to take back our "civics" right, in grammar school, is to have a Legal Schnauzer teach how to write, file, and especially expose the corruption at the root.

thank you LS & Mrs.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:02, don't count on that super nice guy being so honest when the right pressure is put on him. He may be one of the kindest men you know. Civic minded, great husband and father. He may even be your friend. He may be one of the leaders in your church and school. He may be one of the most respected lawyers in the south. He may have been president of the Alabama Bar. Your children may have even gone to prom together. Will he knowingly cheat you and screw you over if told to do so. In a heartbeat.

Andrew Kreig said...

Very perceptive, as your first commenter stated. I don't recall ever seeing this issue raises so well. It deserves a lot of recommendations.
Andrew Kreig

Anonymous said...

This reminded me that Matt Lembke is raping Jefferson County in fees in the bankruptcy case. I think it's something around $400 per hour he's charging. I heard a local Montgomery radio host talking about it, Mark Montiel.

Montiel is also a lawyer. Looks like he turned on one of the tribe.

legalschnauzer said...

Andrew:

Thanks so much. It sounds like the lawyers at DLA Piper got careless and put a lot of stuff in writing about the overbilling of their wealthy client. That just got me to thinking about the ways lawyers will undermine non-wealthy clients, things I've seen first-hand.

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 3:47--

Thanks for sharing the info about Mr. Lembke. He, of course, is a big Bradley Arant guy, strongly tied to Team Riley. Kudos to Mark Montiel for shining light on this.

jeffrey spruill said...

If only discovery was allowed in your case Mr. Schnauzer--what a vermin infestation would be exposed--but that "souther cracker Acker" knew this too.

legalschnauzer said...

Great point, Jeffrey. Look what discovery unearthed in the DLA Piper case--incriminating e-mails.

Anonymous said...

Any attorney who consults with a potential client in your situation should early on inquire if there are possible grounds for a counterclaim. If such grounds exist, and the attorney takes the case, such a counterclaim should be filed with the answer. It's called a compulsory counterclaim, and it's an essential step in any case similar to the one you describe.

This is not complicated strategy; it's a fundamental legal tactic that any semi-competent lawyer should know. You shouldn't have been forced to ask Mr. Odom multiple times about a counterclaim; it should have been done at the outset of your case.

Jesse Evans, without question, is a competent enough lawyer to know how to handle such matters. As a member of the bar myself, I find his failure to take required actions on your behalf to be highly disturbing. I can't blame you for being upset about it.

jeffrey spruill said...

Alabama Property Rights and Remedies.

Screw your Clients!

Anonymous said...

@ 11:08 am
I must say thank you for the chuckle. Although if you were in any way trying to defend Jesse Evans, you actually cast a darker shadow. Considering how the banking industry and certain lawyers (Bradley Arant & Haskell Slaughter) have tried and in many cases succeeded in screwing developers in the state, does not speak highly of Jesse by drawing attention to his alleged "expertise"! Furthermore, I do not think most people ( including many lawyers) would care nor be impressed that he has a "good reputation" amongst attorneys in the state. Just a thought

Anonymous said...

Looks like Scrushy might be familiar with this concept of over billing. Did I read where his defense cost 25 million? I'd say that is over the top extreme! His attorneys become millionaires and he's out that money and goes to the pen. These attorneys are rather brave. Or maybe just stupid. Something tells me they are going to screw over the wrong people eventually. Trying to play in the big leagues could prove dangerous for them. I'm surprised they get away with being such parasites.

Anonymous said...

Matt Lembke is the guy who gave Rob Riley a sworn affadavit that he was not on the phone with Dana Jill Simpson in the Siegelman case - he was Rob's alibi. Then Lembke got the biggest legal contract in the history of the state of Alabama to handle the Water wars. True story.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Luther Strange is planning on taking the $3500 tax credit for his son's preschool . . .

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, and Lembke's affidavit was filled with hedge language--"I don't recall a phone call," "I don't believe such a call took place." If my memory is correct, he never flatly denied the call or his participation in it or the topic that was discussed. He covered his ass for possible perjury before Congress.

e.a.f. said...

People might be better off representing themselves than being represented by a lawyer who "under represents". Either that or every family should send a least one kid to law school, just in case. Oh, and keep the kid close.

Anonymous said...

Lembke also was Bob Riley's lawyer when he evaded testifying in the bingo trial. Slime.

Anonymous said...

Hey guess who is the law firm representing Del Marsh in the switcheroo case? Yep - Bradley Arant. Who else?

Wake up Robert Bentley. They'll have you in Federal prison for their sins soon . . . .

legalschnauzer said...

Anon at 1:49--

I think you make a great point. Bentley is playing with fire by sending powerful signals of weakness. He's in a tank with sharks, and he had better realize that.

jeffrey spruill said...

Had do you know the columnist & his editor wife from the Va. Pilot have been made is when they write about it the SAME DAY Karl rove inquires whether a decision had been made to keep the U.S. attorneys in their jobs:


Most of you are far brighter than your elected officials and the mass media understand. Dave Addis

"My husband and I want to do something different," she wrote in a message to the newspaper staff Thursday. Kay Tucker Addis

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/14/AR2007031400519_2.html

jeffey spruill said...

Too bad! Should not have hired that criminal jurist- J. Harvie Wilkinson the turd:

http://www.businesspundit.com/weather-channel-kills-family-legacy/