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Law Educator, Esq.
Law Educator, Esq., Attorney
Category: CA Real Estate
Satisfied Customers: 112645
Experience:  JA Mentor -Attorney Labor/employment, corporate, sports law, admiralty/maritime and civil rights law
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This isn't really about real estate law. It's about a

Customer Question

This isn't really about real estate law. It's about a dispute with a real estate lawyer. I replaced him after the events I recount here.I hired an attorney to file a lawsuit for me in 2014. The loss I sought to recover occurred in June 2013. From July 2014 to September 2015, I paid the attorney $11,700. I do not think he earned it. I replaced him in September of 2015.The attorney does not agree that he over charged and underperformed. Should I take this dispute to the local bar association?
Off to a bad start
I found him on Yelp in 2012 when I had a few questions about a prospective tenant who threatened to sue, and that went well. I called him about the eventual lawsuit in September 2013, to ask if he thought I had a case and whether he was interested in handling it. I told him what had happened in June, and what I wanted out of a lawsuit. He asked me how much I thought it would cost file the complaint and follow it through. I said $20,000. He didn’t say anything either way; I think I went on to say that was all the cash I had. I called him again in June 2014, and said I wanted to proceed. Before I signed his retainer, in July, in 2014, he asked me again, via email, how much I thought it would cost. Again I said $20,000. He dropped the topic. So, I figured it would cost $20,000 to $25,000. Also before I signed his retainer, he asked me to deposit $1,500 in his Wells Fargo account, which I did. Then I signed the retainer, and the ball was in his court, where it stayed for a very long time.The pdf I uploaded has the bare bones of the case, some contract language ti support it, and the forgery. About the case: 95% of my interaction with my agent was by email, and I haven’t deleted any of the emails, so I have proof of what I said to her and what said said to me.What he did and what I did:
He:
-Sent out mediation letters to the two defendants, who did not respond.
-Sent out document preservation letters to the same defendants, and also to the escrow company.
-On the night of May 15, 2015, after I wrote him and begged him to move the case along, in, he wrote my complaint. He then revised it according to my clarifications, and filed it.
-Emailed back and forth with the broker’s defense attorney 4 or 5 times.
-Forwarded the discovery requests it to me without looking at the.I:
-wrote a blow-by-blow account of what happened to bring about my loss..
-hired and paid a process server, because his got lost looking for the address, and said it didn’t exist. It does.
-found, hired, and paid the forgery expert I needed
-Looked for an appraiser (Didn't find one)How it went
I was as patient as I could manage, but I wrote an imploring message in May of 2015, because it was nearly two years since the deal went bad and nearly a year since I signed the attorney’s retainer. In response, the attorney wrote the complaint in one night, based only on a five-page summary the I wrote. One plaintiff, the broker, hired his usual attorney and fired back an aggressive answer and aggressive pile of discovery questions. My attorney forwarded them to me with no instructions. I had no idea that “discovery” existed and no idea what I was supposed to do. I asked him if he would at least read the questions and tell me if I really had to answer all of them them. The broker’s attorney was asking for records of the property going back to 2009, which seemed irrelevant. He refused to read them.My attorney had $2400 of mine in an account at that point. He began demanding another $6000. I pointed out that I had already paid him $8700, and I didn’t see how this could be done for $20,000 at this rate. He said to expect more like $40,000 to $60,000. When he announced that, I asked him what had changed, and he said that they had hired an attorney. I pointed out that most people would. He then said that they hired an aggressive attorney. You can guess what I said: “Do most people hire passive ones?” Then he said he had never said that it would only cost $20,000, and started going on about the cost of depositions, experts, court reporters, etc. Great, I get it, but there was nothing new. Why didn't he say that at the outset?He was billing me all along, but only sent two of itemized lists of what he had done. Nothing I looked at carefully made sense. (I uploaded an image with four emails that he billed me an hour for as an example.)So, for all that, I ended up paying $11,700. At $295/hr, that work supposedly took him 40 hours.The capper was when I went back and looked at his Yelp page. Never mind the bitterly angry reviews there and on rip-off report, the positive ones come in pairs and seem to be working from the same menu of elements to be assembled into unique but overly similar paragraphs. I uploaded some of those, too.How would a bar mediator see this? Feel free to ask if you need more information.
Submitted: 5 months ago.
Category: CA Real Estate
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 months ago.
Thank you for your question. I look forward to working with you to provide you the information you are seeking for educational purposes only.
The problem you have with the bar is that in mediation if he shows he did the work you acknowledge he did and shows that it reasonably could have taken the time he says, the bar is going to rule on the side of the attorney every time. Even if the attorney may have been a bit slower than other attorneys the bar errs on the side of the attorney and not the client. So you have to show the bar that there is no reasonably trained attorney who would take that much time to do the small amount of work he performed. So you are going to need to attack the actual work product itself to prove your case, because $300 per hour is not an unreasonable hourly rate and they would need to look at the pleadings and every document he wrote to see if it is reasonably possible that he could have spent close to the time he was claiming on it.
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Work products were the two letters, which were the invitation to mediation and the request for document preservation. (I haven't seen them.) He says in an email that he wrote the complaint in 5 hours.Would the apparent "review mill" Yelp comments, like the one I just uploaded as a PDF, be worth showing the bar?How about numerous examples of over-charging, like the email exchange I uploaded (and am uploading again right now)?
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 months ago.
Thank you for your reply.
The bar will review what he actually did in the hourly itemized statements and if they find that he did not do what he claimed or he double billed as you are claiming, then in mediation they will tell him to reduce the bill and remove those charges. Attorneys can charge for emails or even phone call time and they charge in 6 minute increments for every correspondence in most cases for each call or email. So 10 emails can add up to one hour time and that is a legitimate fee.
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Any thoughts on the "review mill" comments on Yelp, which I relief on when choosing him?
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
relied on
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 months ago.
Thank you for your reply.
From Yelp it sounds like he has many dissatisfied customers, but again many times we find only angry or disgruntled customers bother posting reviews. But it certainly can be used to show the bar he has a history of doing what he did to you.
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
there's that. Some of the negatives were exactly what happened in my experience. Without any new information or circumstances, he announces a big jump his estimate of the costs.But I am asking about fraudulent advertising. He has positive reviews that are of the type generated by so-called "reputation management" companies. They pay people to write positive reviews. If they are done well, they are undetectable. Some of his are not done well.This is an example of a pair that were posted 10 days apart• Michelle K.
• El Monte, CA
• 2 friends
• 10 reviews
8/1/2015
I would highly recommend [first name] for anybody that has problems with landlord/tenant issues.
He handled our case and I couldn't be anymore happier.
We will continue to use him in the future!• Maritza M.
• Los Angeles, CA
• 0 friends
• 2 reviews
8/11/2015
I would highly recommend [first name] for anybody that has problems with landlord/tenant.
He handled our case and everything came out great. Our case was a mess and he manage to fix it.
I will definitely use him again and would highly recommend him.Over time, those get shunted by Yelp into the "not recommended" area, and sometimes are blacked out for violating terms by Yelp. Yelp doesn't penalize the business owner, however, probably because of plausible deniability.However, the bar could ask him to provide evidence that he worked for Maritza and Michelle. That's what I would like to see in this case.He also replies to comment using the reviewer's last name, which Yelp doesn't seem to mind. I'd mind it if it were me.In this case the user wrote a very negative review. He commented with her last name, and she changed her review to 5 stars and a terse comment. Another reviewer said he threatened to sue them if they left a negative review, but they did anyway.A mess.
I
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 months ago.
Thank you for your reply.
If you can prove those reviews are fraudulent, then you can have him cited for fraud by the bar, since the bar is supposed to approve of all advertisements and at that point the fraudulent reviews can be considered him posting advertisement.
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Thanks. One can always say one is not responsible for what appears on one's Yelp account, though.
Customer: replied 5 months ago.
Well, no, he couldn't get very far with that. He'd be asked why he allowed the fake reviews to stay. (Especially after I told him about them a year ago.)
Expert:  Law Educator, Esq. replied 5 months ago.
Thank you for your reply
You are right that people are not generally liable for what is on Yelp, but if it becomes obvious they were fake and they were contrary to every other review, the bar can hold him liable.