Thursday, 30 June 2011

Insult to injury -- a recommendation about a law firm to avoid

In my 1 June 2011 post, I talked about a traffic accident I had and my negative experiences with the police and justice system of Lithuania.  I didn't mention the law firm that represented me because I had nothing positive to say about the firm except that the people I dealt with seemed relatively nice.  I'm compelled to write about that firm now because of a recent incident.

I was represented by the lawyer Darius Gumbrevicius, who does business as Advokato Dariaus Gumbreviciaus kontora.  The law firm he works for is called Advokates Dianos Gumbreviciutes kontora.

Just a couple of days ago I got the final bill for my legal services.  That came as quite a shock since I was sure that I had paid my final bill some time ago.  Not long after I decided to go to court about my traffic accident, I got a bill for LTL 756.25 (USD 317/EUR 220) and promptly paid it.  After the case went to court, I got another bill, this one for LTL 907.50 (USD 379/EUR 264).  I assumed that this was some sort of total bill for services, and I therefore paid the difference between the two bills.  That sum was more or less what Darius Gumbrevicius told me when I asked how much it would cost to take the matter to court: "about LTL 700". As it turns out, however, the two bills were separate, meaning that my total costs to take this matter to court were LTL 1663.75 (USD 696/EUR 484).  Holy moolah, Batman!  That seems like an awful lot of money to charge someone to take a traffic offence to court, especially one for which the potential fine was LTL 100 (USD 42/EUR 29).

The law firm and I exchanged several e-mails as I tried to wrap my head around this new sum.  Now, I have to admit that the law firm explained the fees in detail (that 1 hour of services is LTL 250 + 21% VAT, that 2.5 hours was spend doing this, that 3 hours was spent doing that, etc.).  I was even told that I had received a discount (some services were supposedly provided free of charge) since "only the preparation of the complaint [for court] took about 3 hours".  (It was two pages long.)

I suppose that it could be said that on the surface of this situation everything looks more or less kosher, except for the fact that I understood that my total bill would be less than half of what it actually was, and maybe that could be considered simply a misunderstanding, not misrepresentation or fraud.  Right?  Well, my opinion is slightly different.  I feel that I was deceived about the total fees and about my chances of winning the case, and I was decidedly not satisfied with the strategy or performance of my lawyer.

Concerning the fees, let's give the law firm the benefit of the doubt and say that there was a misunderstanding (which, again, I don't believe was the case).  But I would say that a professional law firm should be open and up-front about the the expected fee to represent a person, especially if that person is a foreigner and language or cultural differences might cause misunderstandings.  I would never have taken the matter to court had I known how much it was going to cost.  I think that was the point in keeping me ignorant of the total costs.

Concerning my chances of winning the case, the law firm said, "you were informed about the fact that the probability to win the case is small and you knew that from the very beginning".  I do not remember hearing anything such as that said.  I remember being told that I "had a chance".  I assumed that meant a 50% chance.  Perhaps that's a cultural or language difference and another misunderstanding, but again I feel as if I was misled.

Concerning the quality of the services provided, well, it's only my opinion, but I felt that there was a lack of quality.  Perhaps this lawyer wasn't used to dealing with traffic offences.  Maybe there was another problem.  I don't know.  But I can say that he himself admitted to me that his delay in pursuing the matter was the reason we had to appeal the decision of the traffic police rather than file suit against the actual culprit (the person who caused the accident).  I can also say that one point used in the appeal was completely meaningless--that the police had not provided a translator during an interview.  As it turns out, since one was provided in court, that is enough to make up for the earlier "oversight" according to Lithuanian law.  Apparently my lawyer wasn't aware of that.  I can add that I also wasn't happy that my lawyer didn't focus on the discrepancies in the written and oral testimony of the person that caused the accident.  That seemed to me to be one of the most important aspects of the case.  That's my opinion.  Perhaps Lithuanian law doesn't worry about such things as giving false testimony or lying to collect an insurance claim.

Because of all this, I've decided to report this matter here and state that I cannot recommend using the services of this law firm.  My decision to report this matter was reinforced by something that the law firm wrote me: "it is your decision whether or not to report this matter on your blog and 'warn people to avoid using the services' of our law firm (for the latter mentioned, we explain, that in a such case, we will be forced to take legal remedies against you for the ungrounded information made public - defamation".  Wow.  That's not very good PR.  Anyway, I have tried to not include any ungrounded information.

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