Legal Services: Sometimes You Do Get What You Pay For

Posted on October 18, 2013 in Planning & Advisors

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I may have mentioned in this blog the joke about the doctor and the appendix surgery: A man goes to the hospital to have his appendix removed. He receives the surgeon’s invoice for $10,000, and calls up the surgeon, furious. “How could this operation possibly have cost $10,000?” he screams. “I want to see an itemization of the costs of this procedure!” The surgeon responds with an itemized bill: $1,000 for making incision; $9,000 for knowing where to make incision.

I’ll leave the issue of how important it is for professionals to disclose their fees to clients in advance for another post. For today, however, I have another lesson: Sometimes, you get what you pay for. And if you pay nothing (or very little) for legal services, you may get just that.

This came to mind because of a recent article in The New York Times. Two brothers in Colorado have been accused of duping clients in a long-standing (15-year) fraud by running companies that claim to be a “legal aid” referral service, offering to “help you through the legal process.” As reported by Kirk Johnson,

Some victims wired money in exchange for legal help that never materialized, Ms. Martinez said. She offered the example of a Texas woman, Kristy Matthijetz, who sought help in a child custody case and paid a fee of $525. Ms. Matthijetz was told that a lawyer would meet her at her hearing, but the lawyer never appeared. She spoke for herself in court and ended up losing custody of her daughter.

A word to the wise: Unless you’re dealing with an attorney you have met or who comes recommended, do a little digging to make sure he or she is really an advisor who can meet your needs.

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