A recent article in The Australian (free version here) tells the tale of attorney Stephen Firth. Firth, a personal injury lawyer in Australia, has crusaded against over-charging by his colleagues. Now however, the tables have turned as Firth himself is the subject of multiple claims alleging overcharging and misleading his clients.
In one case, Mr. Firth faces allegations of charging $160,000 when only $30,000 should have been billed. In another case, it is alleged that Mr. Firth had a 25% success contingency fee, which is illegal under Australian law under the Legal Profession Act. In yet another claim, Mr. Firth was accused of unconscionable conduct; Mr. Firth was paid $78,000 under a lump sum contract when a court-ordered itemized bill came to just $27,000.
However, Mr. Firth denies any wrongdoing. The claims are being brought by Tony Barakat, a former partner at a firm that had previously been the subject of a number of claims of overcharging brought by Mr. Firth. Firth claims Mr. Barakat is motivated by revenge.
For his part, Mr. Barakat states that his clients have approached him with factual bases for the claims. Mr. Firth has allegedly fiercely contested an action to prepare an itemized bill in one case where the matter is over a year old. One former client of Mr. Firth states that he believes Mr. Firth was hypocritical in railing against overcharging by others.
Mr. Firth’s reluctance to produce itemized bills is suspicious, especially in light of the previous discrepancies between his fees and itemized bills. But the antagonistic relationship of the two lawyers raises its own questions. One thing is certain: legal billing is serious business.