Sometimes there are warning signs evident the first time an attorney approaches a legal nurse consultant with a case. Learn to heed these warning signs and avoid these attorney clients. Often these warning signs revolve around your fee agreement. There is trouble ahead when the attorney attempts to talk you out of critical terms in your agreement.
Avoid attorney clients who say “My client will pay”
It seemed like an innocent enough request. The attorney’s client, the plaintiff, is funding a medical malpractice case. The attorney says, “I’ll just have my client send you the retainer. He’ll sign your fee agreement too.”
Here is the problem: it is a violation of our ethical codes to work directly with a plaintiff. For example, we cannot screen cases for people who are not represented by an attorney. Oh, but you say, “This is different. The plaintiff does have an attorney.”
Wrong. Your client is the attorney. Your client has to have the funds to handle a medical malpractice case. As the LNC, you don’t want to and should not have to pursue a plaintiff to get your bills paid.
Recently an attorney in another country asked us to accept the plaintiff as our client responsible for paying our bills. Honestly, it can be difficult at times to get bills paid. Now we are going to track down a woman in another country to get pills paid? “No.” We declined and the case did not come in.
Avoid the attorney client who says, “I don’t agree with two clauses in your agreement”
The woman on the other end of the phone was an attorney, but represented her mother. After spending a long time on the initial call discussing how her mother was abused and neglected in a critical care unit (this was already sounding fishy), she asked for our fee agreement. It said, among other things, “Hourly fees are subject to change. Charges are based upon the prevailing fee schedule when the work is performed.”
The attorney said, “I have two concerns. First, it says you may raise your rates. I have to agree to pay higher rates.”
I wanted to reply, “Does your electric company ask your permission to raise rates and allow you to choose to pay the same rate?” LNCs make a business decision as to when to raise rates. They don’t and shouldn’t give their clients the option to pay the same rate.
I explained to the attorney that our company had not raised rates since 2011 and would be increasing its rates some time this year. Then the attorney offered her second objection. “Your agreement says, ‘In the event that it becomes necessary for your company to retain an attorney or collection agency for collecting outstanding fees or any other breach of this agreement, the client agrees to pay your reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred in enforcing its rights under this agreement.’” She said, “I would insist on having an independent arbitrator.”
I replied that we rarely had to send a client to a collection agency, but when we did, we incurred the reasonable attorney fees and costs related to filing a claim in court. She replied, “I can’t agree to signing an agreement with these two clauses.” When she saw I was not going to budge, she hung up on me.
It is always a bad sign when an attorney starts arguing about what happens if she does not pay her bills. If she has every intention to paying for services, she should not be focused on what happens if she does not. It is also a bad sign if an attorney argues with a clause that says that he, as your client, is responsible for paying for your deposition as an expert witness. Avoid the attorney client who argues about paying bills.
“I should not have to pay a 10 hour retainer. This case won’t take that long to review.”
Here is another common argument. There are some small cases, I agree. Emergency department cases, office records that consist of a few pages, and other small cases do exist. However, the majority of cases involve lots of records that need to be organized, assembled, and reviewed. An attorney who does not want to pay a retainer of 10 hours puts the LNC in the position of having to return soon for an additional retainer or exceed the number of hours of the retainer, and then begin the collections process.
Not all business is good business.
My advice from the school of hard knocks:
- Don’t agree to having the plaintiff pay the bills.
- Avoid clients who want to remove clauses from your agreement.
- Insist on a reasonable size retainer.
Which clients spell trouble to you? Which attorney clients will you avoid? Leave a comment below.
Patricia Iyer MSN RN LNCC founded a legal nurse consulting firm in 1989, sold it in 2015 and now coaches LNCs who want to skyrocket their careers.