Did you receive a shock when you looked at the bill from your VA disability attorney? Don’t panic. Take a deep breath and keep reading. We’ll walk you through the options available to you that you can use to reach a peaceful resolution.
What You’ll Learn in This Article
- The First Thing to Do When You Disagree With Your Lawyer’s Fee
- How the VA Views Lawyer Fees
- A Lawyer’s Extra Expenses
- What Do I Do If My Lawyer and I Can’t Reach an Understanding?
- How Do I Write a Motion?
- Where Do I Send My Motion and What Else Should I Include?
- Notify Your Attorney
- Is It Necessary That I Send a Copy of My Motion to My Attorney?
- On What Basis Does the OGC Decide in My Favor or Against Me?
- Timeline for Filing Your Motion
- What Happens if Someone Misses a Deadline?
- Are There Any Exceptions to the Deadline Requirements?
- How to Lessen the Likelihood of a Fee Dispute
- Choose Your VA Disability Attorney Carefully
The First Thing to Do When You Disagree With Your Lawyer’s Fee
You have no doubt spent months (or even years) in consultation with your lawyer. You’ve probably established a nice rapport. And the best part is that you’ve finally received your past-due benefits. Don’t squander the good relationship that you’ve built. Instead, why not capitalize on your camaraderie, and resolve your fee issues between the two of you?
After all, this is the same person you’ve worked with in all kinds of difficult discussions. If they’ve reviewed your medical records, your trauma, and your current personal living situation, surely you can discuss the bill together. The law firm that you used for your VA disability claim has an invested interest in making you a happy client.
How the VA Views Lawyer Fees
An accredited Veterans Affairs lawyer must meet certain standards of conduct, one of which governs the charging of fees. The VA guidelines state that the attorney cannot receive an unreasonable fee. The VA says that he or she can’t even structure an agreement for outrageous fees which precludes soliciting or charging you for such.
Some firms may charge a flat fee while others may charge by the hour, but most VA disability law firms will agree to work on a contingency basis. The contingency is that the firm gets paid only if the VA awards the case in your favor. More specifically, the lawyer doesn’t get paid until you receive your past-due benefits.
VA-accredited lawyers aren’t allowed to collect a huge percentage of your past-due benefits. In this aspect, they differ from most personal injury attorneys who routinely and legally structure agreements that will bring them up to 40% of a settlement or award.
The VA will pay the attorney from your back pay award as long as the agreement that you signed with the attorney specifies that he’s entitled to only 20% or less of the past-due benefits. Some law firms exceed the 20% threshold. However, Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, holds the line at 20% so that you’ll have more money in your pocket to take care of yourself and your loved ones.
If you entered into an agreement whereby your attorney is due more than 20% of your awarded past-due benefits, the VA will not pay the attorney directly out of those benefits. It then becomes your responsibility to pay your lawyer.
A lawyer with VA accreditation should be well-versed in what is and is not considered a reasonable fee by the VA. Fees that are 20% or less are less likely to be at the center of a dispute because they don’t exceed the VA standard. Those fees are more likely to be considered reasonable. But this doesn’t mean that a veteran can’t contest such a fee and win his or her argument.
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The VA claim attorney’s fees that are more likely to stir trouble are the ones of 33 1/3% or more. They have a presumption of unreasonableness. But there are exceptions here, as well. A lawyer could give valid reasons why his or her fee is outside the industry standard and convince the VA of the fee’s legitimacy.
A Lawyer’s Extra Expenses
The sticking point for most people will be the additional fees that law firms normally charge. In a disability case, the firm probably had to consult with several professionals in the healthcare field concerning your condition.
Each of those medical professionals will charge for his or her time and expertise. Typically, there are fees related to the cost of obtaining their expert testimonies and reports.
Some lawyers will charge for these extra expenses after their contingency fee has been deducted from your past-due benefits. Others will charge for those expenses first, and then collect a percentage of your payment.
The amount that you would have to pay your lawyer can differ significantly depending upon when the expenses are deducted. Other factors affecting the total lawyer’s fee using either calculation method include, naturally, the sum of the expenses and the size of the benefit payment.
What Do I Do If My Lawyer and I Can’t Reach an Understanding?
If you maintain that your lawyer’s fee is unreasonable, and the law firm refuses to adjust your bill accordingly, you can file a motion with the VA, specifically with the Office of General Counsel (OGC).
The OGC hears VA legal cases such as yours and issues rulings.
How Do I Write a Motion?
The good news is that you don’t need a law degree to write a motion to the OGC. Your motion can simply be in the form of an everyday letter. Telephone calls are not accepted.
However, you do need to include certain important facts in your letter. For starters, make sure that you list your full name. You must also include your VA file number.
Clearly explain why you feel that your attorney’s fee is unwarranted. If you have evidence to support your motion, you should include it and keep a copy for yourself.
The OGC’s requirements are few, but they’re important. Double-check your packet before you submit it to make sure all the points cited above are included. If anything is missing, it will delay the start of your case.
A behind the scenes look at who works for you at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm
Where Do I Send My Motion and What Else Should I Include?
Don’t mail your motion to your local VA hospital or clinic. Instead, mail it to the national office below:
Department of Veteran Affairs
Office of General Counsel (022D)
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
When you mail your motion to the VA, you should include in your packet evidence that a copy of your motion was served to your attorney.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Notify Your Attorney
When you file a motion with the OGC (Office of General Counsel) you must notify your attorney and provide them with a copy of your motion. You can do so by either handing a copy to them or mailing it.
You must include along with your motion to the OGC, a statement asserting that you gave the attorney a copy of the motion. This statement is called proof of service. Make sure your statement includes the following:
- The name of the attorney to whom you delivered or mailed the copy.
- The date that you served or mailed the attorney the copy of your motion.
- The method you used to deliver the copy. In other words, did you deliver it in person or did you mail it?
- The address of the location where you served the attorney or the address where you mailed his or her copy.
Is It Necessary That I Send a Copy of My Motion to My Attorney?
The sooner that all your necessary paperwork is on file at the OGC the sooner your case can begin. Part of that paperwork is the evidence that you sent a copy of your motion to your attorney. Your case will remain idle until after your attorney receives their copy of your motion, and you’ve proved to the OGC that they’ve received it.
In fairness, your attorney has the right to know the accusation that you’re making against him or her.
On What Basis Does the OGC Decide in My Favor or Against Me?
The OGC will examine the history of your case to determine how involved your attorney was in representing your claim. For example, was your case extraordinarily complicated, or was your situation rather straightforward? Did it require specialized legal knowledge, or could it have been handled by a junior attorney? Were the attorney fees typical or unusual?
The VA specifically states that the OGC will weigh the following nine points:
- What did the attorney do on your behalf including the depth of his involvement?
- Whether your case included factors that made it more complex than is typical.
- Did your case necessitate the work of an attorney with more skill than the average disability attorney?
- How much time did your attorney work on your case?
- What did the attorney accomplish on your behalf? For example, did he or she get you your benefits, and if so, how much were those benefits?
- Did your case pass through a low or high number of review stages? During which of those stages were your attorney actively involved?
- What is the going rate among attorneys for the service that you received?
- Is the attorney charging you based upon the case results? For example, does the firm require a certain percentage of the back pay that you received?
- If you fired your attorney, why did you fire them?
Timeline for Filing Your Motion
It’s important that you keep track of your motion so that you don’t miss a deadline. Your basic timeline is as follows:
- Within 120 days of the close of your claim, send your motion in writing to the OGC and your attorney.
- Wait 30 days to hear from your attorney. They should send you a copy of their reply to your motion.
- You now have 15 days to submit a reply to your attorney’s response. You’ll send the reply to both the OGC and the attorney.
After the VA has received from you and your attorney all evidence relevant to the case, the matter is turned over to the General Counsel. The General Counsel issues the filing ruling.
If you or the attorney want to appeal, the case would go to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
What Happens if Someone Misses a Deadline?
The OGC has the right to reject any evidence that either you or your attorney tries to present after a deadline passes. So, after you file your motion, if the attorney doesn’t submit their reply to that motion within 30 days, the OGC can refuse to hear their reply.
Similarly, if the attorney does respond to your motion, but you fail to reply to their response within 15 days, the OGC has the right to reject your reply.
Are There Any Exceptions to the Deadline Requirements?
If you feel that you will need more time to construct your reply to your attorney’s response, you can request an extension from the OGC. However, you should make your request as early as possible after receiving your attorney’s response.
Your attorney also has the right to request more time if the firm feels that they need more than 30 days to present their point of view in response to your motion.
How to Lessen the Likelihood of a Fee Dispute
Arguments over fees rob you of your time as well as that of your attorney. We don’t want to deal with a dispute any more than you do. A few simple precautions can prevent headaches, bad feelings, and lost sleep.
- The first step toward trying to avoid a dispute over fees is to consider only doing business with law firms that have a solid reputation.
- Read the fee agreements offered by your attorney.
- Make sure you understand exactly what sort of fees the lawyer will likely charge.
- Perform research to determine if the proposed fees are generally considered by the VA and the legal community to be reasonable.
- Ask lots of questions, and do not sign anything until your questions have been addressed satisfactorily.
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Choose Your VA Disability Attorney Carefully
The wisest advice for avoiding fee disputes with your lawyer is to only work with a trusted law firm like Woods and Woods. We are a family-owned and operated law firm in operation since 1985.
We know that you have enough on your mind with your VA disability claim. You don’t want the added stress of facing unfair fees from your lawyer. That’s why we discuss everything upfront so there will be no surprises. Instead, together, we can celebrate when we help you get the past-due benefits for which you worked so hard and sacrificed so much.
So, take the step now to find the VA disability attorney who will help you collect your past-due benefits. Call Woods and Woods today toll-free at 866-232-5777 for a free consultation. You’re also welcome to complete our online contact form.