Sunday, November 02, 2014
Lawyer deserves payment for services rendered
How far should you go to get money owed you? A California lawyer is grappling with just this issue. A client was chronically slow to pay, the lawyer writes, but until a court ruling went against her, she was always appreciative of the lawyer's work.
Recently, however, the client wrote the lawyer a check that the bank tagged as NSF (non-sufficient funds). The client "made it clear she finds my services unworthy of payment," writes the lawyer. Going forward, another lawyer will represent the client.
This client had never protested any previous bills, the lawyer noted.
"I made no legal or professional errors whatsoever," she recalled. The lawyer further pointed out that she had 30 years of experience and was honest to the point of having been called a "saint" who was "too ethical to practice law."
Since she's been replaced on this case, the lawyer says she "must decide if I should seek remedies for the NSF check."
If the client felt the lawyer was not doing a good job, she should have replaced her earlier. Perhaps she had been satisfied until the undesirable ruling caused her to doubt her lawyer's performance. Even if that's the case -- though there's no clear indication of this -- the client should not have intentionally written a bad check.
So, what is the right thing for the lawyer to do? Should she go after the money she's owed? Of course, she should. Whether or how soon she'll recoup the payment is another question, but she should not let the matter lie.
Any time we hire a professional to provide services for us, we have every right to question whether or not those services were delivered satisfactorily. If we hire a contractor to install new windows and find that the windows don't open correctly, for example, it's perfectly reasonable to withhold payment and demand that the contractor do the job correctly. What's not OK is to deem the work unacceptable, then write a bad check to signal our displeasure.
In this case, there's no indication that the client received anything but responsible and professional representation. The client never took issue with anything and, while she paid slowly, she did cover her bills. To suggest to her lawyer now that she wrote the bad check to indicate she was dissatisfied is simply wrong.
The right thing for the lawyer to do is seek whatever remedies she must to compel her former client to pay. Fortunately, she happens to know a good lawyer who can help her!
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.