This raucous Daily News article, entitled FEE-ASCO! in the print edition, is replete with all sorts of entertaining pedagogic moments:
A Manhattan lawyer’s bid to collect $6,000 more in frivolous fees from his former clients backfired in a big way on Thursday [July 11]—with the attorney ordered to repay the couple over $21,000.
So we like that, right? A greedy and apparently not competent lawyer tries to extract outrageous fees from clients who had hired him in March 2011 “to help with their ongoing battle with their co-op board over apartment renovations.”
The lawyer, Ronny Buni, “quickly ran up massive bills, without much to show for it.”
Now, I did write about the appropriate venue for arguing with your lawyer over fees (here, here, and here. Oh and here, too, when I found out I couldn’t), and indeed the Kleinermans [the clients] went to arbitration. And the arbitrator ordered Buni to repay the couple $5,000. But “the livid litigator [gotta praise the Daily News phraseology here] still refused to back down, and filed suit against the Kleinermans in Manhattan Civil Court.” Which I bolded because I just know we’re all thinking, “Huh? Is this guy nuts?” An arbitrator decided against him and he files a lawsuit?
Well, as the Daily News says, “He should have left well enough alone.” Because Judge Frank Nervo “found [Buni’s] work wasn’t worth a total of over $28,000 — it was worth $750.” Which I’ve also bolded, for obvious reasons.
The judge also wrote, “Once (Buni) determined that he was incapable of representing defendants, rather than bill these clients for his own lack of legal knowledge, he should have moved to withdraw at that time and not continued to build up legal fees.”
You’ll want to read the whole piece, because it’s quite juicy, especially when it describes what this lawyer charged for and what he wasn’t doing and didn’t know anything about while charging. But let me point up a few things that the Daily News does not.
First, the Kleinermans “hired Buni on the recommendation of a friend…” Haven’t I written about not getting lawyer recommendations from friends? Gee, yes, I have. And I explained why.
So the Kleinermans were foolish to hire a friend’s recommendation in the first place, without checking him out carefully. But even worse, had they checked him out, here’s what the Daily News writes about him: “Buni, a lawyer since 2000, specializes in tax and corporate law, according to his website.”
These people are involved in a co-op lawsuit and they hire a lawyer without co-op expertise? As I just explained to a cousin who is about to purchase a co-op apartment in Manhattan: you need a lawyer with vast New York City co-op experience because co-op law is complex and arcane.
It’s a yummy piece anyway and your lawyer probably isn’t as bad as this one, and if he is, you can look up what to do about it here on Sidebar. Oh and PS: just in case you’re thinking about hiring Buni, who “did not return [the Daily News] calls and emails for comment. In a court filing from February, he said he was moving to China.”