How you get your legal expenditures back from the defendants

If your lawsuit is not on a contingency basis—that is, your lawyer isn’t paying all expenses in advance, to be reimbursed out of the gross settlement before you get your share—then you’ve been paying your lawyer an hourly fee and reimbursing her for expense outlays such as filing fees and court reporters. You probably receive monthly bills.

I’m billed on a monthly basis. However, lawsuits like mine usually have a “wherefore” list at the end of the complaint. Here’s the beginning of my “wherefore:”

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully demands judgment against the Skush-O’Brien Defendants, jointly and severally, as follows:

After that is a numbered list of things we’re asking the judge for when we win the case. (A lot of “compelling” goes on here.) The penultimate demand is probably standard for a lawsuit against a corporation governed by the laws of New York State, such as a co-operative corporation:

10. Awarding Plaintiff costs, disbursements and, pursuant to Business Corporation Law §626(e), expenses including reasonable attorneys’ fees…

So, when I win the case, the judge should determine that the Skush-O’Briens must reimburse all my legal fees and expenses for this case. And we’ll probably ask for interest, too. After all, I laid out money from interest-bearing and dividend-earning accounts. Interest and dividends I have therefore not received over the eight years I’ve been paying for this case.

Yeah, eight years. And my expenses and fees and everything are now considerably over $100,000.

To get that money back, though, I can’t just say, “Hey, they owe me plunk amount of dollars.” I have to prove it, by giving the Skush-O’Brians’ lawyer copies of my fees and expenses after the discovery period (which also includes depositions) is over.

Luckily for me, I’m a really good bookkeeper: I keep all my accounts balanced, and use Quicken as an accounting system. However, I use four accounts, including American Express, to pay my bills. So while I can supply definitive proof of my expenditures, I can’t do it quickly.

I’ve just taken a short break from working on making copies of Amex statements (while blocking out all other payments and my account number) and checks from three different accounts (while blocking out all other checks and my account numbers) (!&?!#$%), to offer a really fat tip for all you plaintiffs who are paying your lawyers on a monthly basis:

Make a file. Call it Legal Fees. And every month put into it not only the invoice from your lawyer (which you have marked “paid” and how you’ve paid, i.e., what’s the check number), make a copy of your check and/or other record of payment and put that into the folder, too. It will save you hours and hours and days and days of really tedious stuff.

This may be the best advice I’ve ever given you. I wish I’d given it to myself eight years ago.


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