Lewis Brisbois Ordered to Pay $6 Million for Overbilling
LOS ANGELES DAILY JOURNAL
July 8, 2009
Lewis Brisbois Ordered to Pay $6 Million for Overbilling, Mishandling Four Cases
By Amanda Becker
Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith will be paying its former client, ReadyLink Healthcare, Inc., more than $6 million in damages after a jury decided Tuesday the firm overbilled and improperly handled four trade secrets cases.
Over the course of a two-month long trial, ReadyLink, a Nevada-based nursing registry that provides staffing to hospitals, alleged that Lewis Brisbois had committed legal malpractice, breach of contract and overbilling when it represented the company in trade secrets actions against two former employees and their attorneys. The Lewis Brisbois attorneys staffed on the cases were inexperienced, ill-equipped to handle trade secrets litigation and had improperly filed costly suits against the employees’ attorneys that were immediately dismissed, according to a complaint filed with the court.
The cases began when ReadyLink retained Lewis Brisbois to file suit against two former employees, Joe Wheeler and Jerome Cotton, who it claimed had used proprietary information after they left the company for new jobs.
“For the most part, the Wheeler and Cotton cases were rudderless ships going in circles with no one at the helm making sure ReadyLink’s cases were well prepared for trial…as a result of incredibly poor planning, inadequate research, incompetent analysis, and poor case preparation,” the complaint said.
During the Wheeler trial, the complaint said, ReadyLink’s lead counsel, Eric Erickson, was disorganized, unprepared and failed to depose key witnesses, and the firm took no steps to assign new trial counsel even as Erickson became noticeably ill and was ultimately hospitalized as the trial date approached (the illness of Erickson, who is currently a partner at Lewis Brisbois, was not disclosed). A jury in that trial ruled against ReadyLink and in favor of Wheeler.
The results were similarly disastrous for ReadyLink in the Cotton case. Despite a hired expert telling Lewis Brisbois the damages recovered would be small, ReadyLink alleges it was led to believe the recovery would be far more and that as a result, substantial fees built up as the company pursued a low-worth claim.
“Lewis Brisbois believes wholeheartedly in the jury system, however we are disappointed by the results in this matter, the firm is currently looking into its various options, including its right to appeal,” said a firm spokesman who declined to comment further.
According to ReadyLink, the firm threatened to withdraw as counsel on both cases just weeks before the trials began unless the company agreed to pay all outstanding bills, which the firm said amounted to more than $1 million. In addition to paying fees, ReadyLink was asked to sign a settlement agreement and release that absolved the firm of any liability for legal malpractice or over billing.
“I think the important message is, this is why there are lawyer jokes,” said ReadyLink’s new counsel, Gerald Klein of Klein & Wilson. “Attorneys can’t get away with billing like this, and if they do, they’re going to get sued and they’re going to lose.”