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Is the Real April Fool the Lawyer Who Sues a Client?

2013 April 1
by John Wallbillich

So there is this large dust-up, undoubtedly you’ve heard. A client doesn’t pay a law firm invoice after repeated requests. Law firm threatens to sue. Client doesn’t pay. Law firm sues. Client counterclaims. Client gets discovery. Client gets emails, files some as exhibits. Press gets emails:

dlap1

So law firm goes into damage control mode, declines to comment to press, and sends memo to staff. Press gets memo:

dlap2

Wait a minute. Isn’t the point of discovery to find documents and use them to your advantage?

The DLA Piper “That’s Team DLA” lawsuit been covered by Inside Counsel, Thomson Reuters, and even the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. The Op-Ed tries to link this dust-up to the entire billable hour regime.

Wow.

Years ago I asked a very savvy partner at a prosperous law firm whether he had ever sued a client over an unpaid bill. The response was something like this:

No. I can’t say I never would. But it would have to be a large bill, a great result, and a clear winner. And of course a client that I didn’t care about losing.

The intransigent client’s unpaid bill from DLA Piper was reportedly $675,000. To put this in perspective, DLA Piper revenues for 2012 were $2.44 billion (source). I think that works out to about 0.027%.

Some in-house lawyers have put this entire matter in perspective, seeing it as larger than any one firm with a dispute with a single client.

A final explanation in the “not-to-be-commented-upon” internal DLA Piper memo was that the emails were nothing more than:

“…an unfortunate attempt at humor by three former lawyers of the firm.”

Many April Fool “jokes” are unfortunate attempts at humor.

I have to believe many partners at DLA Piper think that the press generated by this collection lawsuit has not been funny. In the least.

One Response Post a comment
  1. Steven permalink
    April 2, 2013

    Years ago, I went to a seminar sponsored by a malpractice carrier on minimizing the potential for malpractice claims. A presenter said that the number 1 source of malpractice claims was a counter-claim to a bill collection. He cited numerous examples of suits over small bills resulting in malpractice verdicts/settlements several times the underlying bill. Moral of the story was don’t fall behind on your retainer, and if the client doesn’t pay, write it off and move on.

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