Paralegal SCOPE contributor Minda Bowman writes a “paralegal advice” column, based on questions about ethical dilemmas, client management tips and sticky issues that simply are not addressed in typical courses or CPDs.
This question is about what to do when a colleague refuses to pay for work performed.
Another paralegal subcontracted several cases to me. I attended hearings, filed documents, met with clients. I even turned down work so that I could fulfill my agreement with this other person. Now she refuses to pay me and has stopped taking my calls or replying to emails. What should I do? I thought this person was well-regarded and I don’t want to go to war with her. But I am just starting out and every dollar counts.
– Signed, “Sick of the Scofflaws, But Scared”
Dear Sick But Scared:
There are two issues at play here. One is for the business transaction of contract work and subsequent payment, which should follow if the contracted paralegal indeed rendered the scope of work contracted for, to the satisfaction of the contractor.
The second issue is conduct-related, in terms of our duty to adhere to a high level of professional civility between licensees, which is mandated by our Paralegal Rules of Conduct.
Before the contracted Paralegal hauls off and takes action against the paralegal who contracted her, she should communicate with her by methods other than phone calls and email — both of which may be evaded easily.
Sometimes, a miscommunication between people can frustrate the process of getting paid. The two paralegals need to communicate, so that the matter may be settled out of court. At the end of the day, the contracted paralegal is looking for compensation, which in the alternative of any reply or protest by the contracting paralegal, should be taken to court to attempt to recover unpaid fees.
A registered letter would be in order, from the contracted paralegal. It should indicate, in a professional tone (without any emotion), that she provided contracted legal services for various tasks, for an agreed-upon fee.
Included with this correspondence should be the original copy of the invoice, together with copies of any disbursement and expense receipts, and the original contract agreement that enabled the paralegal to render services on contract. The contracted paralegal should keep copies of the letter sent to the paralegal, together with a tracking slip of the registered mail particulars.
The contracted paralegal, in her correspondence, should NEVER threaten to report the other paralegal to the LSUC as leverage to getting paid; this kind of duress can only backfire on the paralegal, as it may be, in itself — conduct unbecoming.
If the contracted paralegal doesn’t receive any reply or payment within a couple of weeks, then a follow-up call may be made — again, in a professional tone, abiding by our Rules of Professional Conduct. If this fails to yield a reply, perhaps a third party may make a call to investigate and objectively mediate the matter between the two paralegals, and get to the bottom of the issues.
The Law Society should only be notified about the grievance if there is a judicial finding of liability from the civil matter, or if there is an incident secondary to the issue of non-payment and the rules of civility are being breached — for example, spreading vicious and vindictive rumours on facebook, or writing nasty letters, etc.
The LSUC has no jurisdiction for this, unless there is basis for “conduct unbecoming” and a grievance report to the Law Society on behalf of either paralegal involved in this dispute.
Remember that matters taken to court become public record. These are embarrassing stains to the integrity and reputation of paralegals before the judiciary in which we practice. Furthermore, rumours and gossip among paralegals spread like wildfire. Personal and professional character issues for both paralegals are at stake.
It is therefore my best advice to the contracted paralegal to exhaust the suggested remedies to settle the matter, before it “turns ugly” for us all!
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Do you have a paralegal ethics, client-management or etiquette question? Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in future “Ask Minda” installments. Please note that not all questions can be answered. Advice in “Ask Minda” is not intended to be definitive, nor is it legal or practice-management advice.
Paralegals are encouraged to seek a range of opinions, from colleagues, the Law Society, senior paralegals and mentors, before deciding on any course of action when it comes to ethics and client-management matters.
Minda Bowman, B.A., is a Licensed Paralegal, Mediator, Mentor and Legal Program Instructor. A passionate educator, she is a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada. Minda operates Ceasefire Dispute Resolution, focusing on negotiation, mediation and arbitration of small claims court matters.