A MAN CHALLENGES A LAW FIRM AND WINS
A client came to me following his attempt to seek justice in Small Claims Court against a “law firm” and lawyer who had allegedly failed to perform proper work for the client. The client had paid over $10,000 to the “law firm” for the legal services he was supposed to receive. He wanted just half of his money back because of alleged overcharging and shoddy work. His initial efforts in the Small Claims Court only resulted in a recovery of slightly more than $1,400.00. Following the award by the Court, the “law firm” and lawyer appealed the decision because they did not want to pay the $1,400.
That is where I come in. The client transferred the original file to my office to handle it for him and to correct that which had been done wrong. Additionally, I was now asked to come in and assist with the Small Claims Appeal as well. (In Small Claims Court, no lawyers may represent any party, unless the lawyer is a party to the claim. However, on appeal, lawyers may represent the parties in the appeal, which is really just another trial of the same matter in front of another judge.)
This “law firm” is named Equity Law Group, LLP in Rancho Cucamonga. This company is run by attorney, Lofty Mrich. So a few weeks prior to the appeal, I started my research for this matter. I knew the California State Bar, which is the agency that governs the attorneys in California, had very specific rules and guidelines associated operating a law practice under an limited liability partnership (LLP) or corporation. Some of the rules include that the entity must be active with the California Secretary of State, it must be registered with the State Bar, the entity must have insurance coverage at a minimum of $1,000,000 for professional liability, and if it is an LLP, then there must be at least two partners in the company. If these, or several other rules are not followed, the entity may not conduct the business of law and be paid for legal services, even if a lawyer does the work.
On the morning of the appeal hearing, we showed up for court. I noticed the attorney handed a business card to the clerk, with the name “Equity Law Group, LLP” prominently displayed. Shortly after checking in, the lawyer and his “law firm” attempted to dismiss the appeal. I objected, and the lawyer changed his mind and wanted to go ahead and proceed with his appeal. The judge moved our hearing to the afternoon and we commenced the trial. While I already knew the answers to my questions, I began my inquiry of the attorney. You may have noticed that I put “law firm” in quotes, here is why. With each question, the evidence revealed that the LLP was cancelled by the Secretary of State and it had been that way for some time. The Equity Law Group, LLP was never registered with the State Bar. There was no professional liability insurance available. Finally, there were no partners in this company other than this attorney. Based upon the card provided to the Court earlier, it was clear that Mr. Mrich was still using the company name, knowing full well that he had not complied with any of the State Bar requirements to allow him to make a representation that the company was authorized to engage in the practice of law.
By the end of the trial, the Court determined the Equity Law Group, LLP to not be an authorized entity to practice law, that the contract with my client was voidable and ordered the lawyer and his company to disgorge all fees received from the client to the tune of $10,000.00, the maximum allowed under the Small Claims limits. My client was successful and obtained the justice he so needed and deserved. Now the next step is securing payment of that judgment.
Would you have stood up to a law firm who you thought did something wrong? Share your experiences.