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Settlement Conflict with Lawyer

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Dale Sr

Member
I am in PA.

Company I filed suit against is in MO (also where civil suit was filed)

My Attorney is NY based.

I, as well as many others, filed an individual suit (not a class action) against a large corporation. Even though it was not a class action suit, my (our) lawyers essentially negotiated settlements for each of us (but did it all at once, if that makes sense).

Each of us needed to agree on our respective settlement amount that varied based on many variables.

I agreed (via email) to accept the settlement amount and my lawyers proceeded accordingly.

They then came back to me when they discovered that my contract with them called for them receive 33% of the settlement (after expert witness fees, etc). The boilerplate template they sent to me years ago when this all started said 40%. I was not comfortable with that so I crossed the 40% out and hand wrote 33%. We both executed the agreement after I modified it. I have a copy.

They claim they never noticed my change before they executed it and now want to revert to the 40%. I said no. They said OK, but in that case they are withdrawing from any further work required for me to get my settlement funds.

Suggestions on how to proceed?
 


Just Blue

Senior Member
I am in PA.

Company I filed suit against is in MO (also where civil suit was filed)

My Attorney is NY based.

I, as well as many others, filed an individual suit (not a class action) against a large corporation. Even though it was not a class action suit, my (our) lawyers essentially negotiated settlements for each of us (but did it all at once, if that makes sense).

Each of us needed to agree on our respective settlement amount that varied based on many variables.

I agreed (via email) to accept the settlement amount and my lawyers proceeded accordingly.

They then came back to me when they discovered that my contract with them called for them receive 33% of the settlement (after expert witness fees, etc). The boilerplate template they sent to me years ago when this all started said 40%. I was not comfortable with that so I crossed the 40% out and hand wrote 33%. We both executed the agreement after I modified it. I have a copy.

They claim they never noticed my change before they executed it and now want to revert to the 40%. I said no. They said OK, but in that case they are withdrawing from any further work required for me to get my settlement funds.

Suggestions on how to proceed?
Was the changed portion of the contract initialed by all parties?
 

quincy

Senior Member
I am in PA.

Company I filed suit against is in MO (also where civil suit was filed)

My Attorney is NY based.

I, as well as many others, filed an individual suit (not a class action) against a large corporation. Even though it was not a class action suit, my (our) lawyers essentially negotiated settlements for each of us (but did it all at once, if that makes sense).

Each of us needed to agree on our respective settlement amount that varied based on many variables.

I agreed (via email) to accept the settlement amount and my lawyers proceeded accordingly.

They then came back to me when they discovered that my contract with them called for them receive 33% of the settlement (after expert witness fees, etc). The boilerplate template they sent to me years ago when this all started said 40%. I was not comfortable with that so I crossed the 40% out and hand wrote 33%. We both executed the agreement after I modified it. I have a copy.

They claim they never noticed my change before they executed it and now want to revert to the 40%. I said no. They said OK, but in that case they are withdrawing from any further work required for me to get my settlement funds.

Suggestions on how to proceed?
Did you not notify the lawyers of your modification of the original contract? You cannot sneak modifications into a contract and expect it to hold up to a challenge.

I suggest you hire another lawyer to renegotiate a settlement based on the previous settlement terms. You might (probably will) find, however, that you will be responsible for paying for the time the other lawyers spent on your behalf, if not at a percentage of the settlement then perhaps at their hourly rate.
 
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adjusterjack

Senior Member
They claim they never noticed my change before they executed it and now want to revert to the 40%. I said no. They said OK, but in that case they are withdrawing from any further work required for me to get my settlement funds.
And my guess is that they will want to be paid for the work they already did and have a lien on your settlement.

Suggestions on how to proceed?
My suggestion, for the 2 cents that it's worth, is immediately file a complaint with the NY Attorney Grievance Committee:

http://ww2.nycourts.gov/attorneys/grievance/complaints.shtml

You'll get a (hopefully) unbiased agency to decide which percentage the attorney is entitled to.
 

zddoodah

Active Member
Company I filed suit against is in MO (also where civil suit was filed)

My Attorney is NY based.
You found an attorney in NY who is admitted to practice in MO? Or do you also have a lawyer in MO who is counsel of record?


I, as well as many others, filed an individual suit (not a class action) against a large corporation. Even though it was not a class action suit, my (our) lawyers essentially negotiated settlements for each of us (but did it all at once, if that makes sense).
So...is this a lawsuit filed by you and several other plaintiffs? Or did you file suit on your own, with many others filing separate lawsuits on their own? If the latter, I assume the suits were consolidated. Correct?


Suggestions on how to proceed?
You either stick to your guns or accede to what your lawyer wants. The problem for you is that your current lawyer(s) are entitled to be paid, whether or not they withdraw before the settlement is finalized. Typically when a lawyer working on contingency withdraws, he/she is entitled to be paid a "reasonable" fee based on time spent on the case. Of course, your new lawyer will also need to be paid, so you'll need to try and figure out whether the fees that you'll have to pay to the current and new lawyers will be more or less than if the current lawyers got 40% of the net settlement. If, for example, your settlement (after deduction of expert witness fees and other costs) is $100,000, then you're looking at a difference of only $7,000.

By the way, while it's probably inexcusable that the current lawyer signed the agreement without noticing the change you made (depending on how obvious the handwritten change was), what you should have done is make it clear what you had done and initial the change and invite the lawyer to do likewise.
 

Dale Sr

Member
You found an attorney in NY who is admitted to practice in MO? Or do you also have a lawyer in MO who is counsel of record?




So...is this a lawsuit filed by you and several other plaintiffs? Or did you file suit on your own, with many others filing separate lawsuits on their own? If the latter, I assume the suits were consolidated. Correct?




You either stick to your guns or accede to what your lawyer wants. The problem for you is that your current lawyer(s) are entitled to be paid, whether or not they withdraw before the settlement is finalized. Typically when a lawyer working on contingency withdraws, he/she is entitled to be paid a "reasonable" fee based on time spent on the case. Of course, your new lawyer will also need to be paid, so you'll need to try and figure out whether the fees that you'll have to pay to the current and new lawyers will be more or less than if the current lawyers got 40% of the net settlement. If, for example, your settlement (after deduction of expert witness fees and other costs) is $100,000, then you're looking at a difference of only $7,000.

By the way, while it's probably inexcusable that the current lawyer signed the agreement without noticing the change you made (depending on how obvious the handwritten change was), what you should have done is make it clear what you had done and initial the change and invite the lawyer to do likewise.
The NY lawyer was publicly soliciting clients who developed specific medical conditions after using a particular product. They are a NY based firm, but have lawyers licensed to practice in many states, including MO (where the company being sued has their HQ). Suits are all individually filed by the same law firm but then are consolidated for trial/settlement proceedings.

I did tell them, via email, that I made that change before they executed the contract. They did not respond to my comment, but sent back the fully executed contract. Change was very obvious. There was no intent to sneak it in. Changes were made in clear view and highlighted to the lawyers.
 

quincy

Senior Member
Yes, I highlighted this fact in the email I sent with my executed version attached.
The attorney should not try to argue the contract terms, then, if you made it clear that you were reducing the percentage from 40% to 33%. I hope you have a copy of the highlighted email.

Was there anything in your contract about fee dispute resolution?

I had earlier suggested you find another attorney - and you still might need one - but I think you first should try to talk to your current attorney. A 33 1/3% is a standard low for contingency fees so you might want to agree to that.
 

Dale Sr

Member
Received contact via email today asking if I am available for a conference call on Friday to discuss this matter. Not sure if they will try to negotiate or intimidate.

I will hear them out but am in no hurry to do anything.
 

Dale Sr

Member
The attorney should not try to argue the contract terms, then, if you made it clear that you were reducing the percentage from 40% to 33 1/3. I hope you have a copy of the highlighted email.

Was there anything in your contract about fee dispute resolution?

I had earlier suggested you find another attorney - and you still might need one - but I would try to talk to your current attorney first.
1. Yes, I did and I do have copies of everything (contract and emails).
2. Not sure, great question. Will look now.
3. Agree on both points (if needed on the attorney part).

As for materiality of the situation.

Settlement (after expenses): $379,853

40% of Settlement = $151,941
33 1/3% = $126.618
----------------------------------
Difference = $25,324

$25K matters enough to me take a firm stance., but probably not enough to lawyer up. But I am in no hurry, that gives me some leverage. Seems that they are (at least my impression).
 
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Dale Sr

Member
Was there anything in your contract about fee dispute resolution?
No, but it does contain the following:


"Client understands that the Claim is subject to investigation. After further investigation, Attorneys may determine to no longer represent Client with respect to this Claim and return this Case to Client at any stage of the Case."
 

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