Iowa lawyers warned they are responsible for ‘unethical’ acts of national firm
A state panel said Iowa attorneys who work with a national bankruptcy law firm cannot distance themselves from the firm’s “inappropriate and unethical actions.”
The Iowa Disciplinary Board of Attorneys has discovered that the Chicago law firm Deighan Law, which does business nationwide as UpRight Law, is using non-lawyers to enforce “aggressive selling” to potential customers. Iowa attorneys who work for the firm are responsible for the actions of non-attorneys working in the Chicago office, the board said.
The counsel’s statements are contained in the recent written reprimand from a Dubuque attorney who worked for UpRight Law as one of its “partner attorneys.”
According to the board, UpRight Law is a multi-jurisdictional firm that promises potential clients “affordable bankruptcy attorneys.” After potential clients contact the firm by phone or through its website, they are routed to a non-lawyer staff member who sends written copies of fee agreements and accepts payment of a retainer which is usually paid. by credit card.
UpRight Law, which has partnered with attorneys in all 50 states, then assigns cases to attorneys who work in the same jurisdiction as the newly signed clients.
One Iowan, identified in public records only as SL, contacted UpRight Law on March 1, 2019 to discuss the possibility of filing for bankruptcy and was reportedly asked to provide a credit card number for records of the company. She provided the number, allegedly knowing that her card would not be charged if she decided not to file for bankruptcy. She later found out that UpRight Law had charged $500 to her card the same day. Although she never spoke to an UpRight Law lawyer and first requested a refund on March 4, 2019, she did not receive a refund for 92 days, until July 12, 2019.
SL filed a complaint with the Prosecutors Disciplinary Board, which later learned that the Attorney General’s office had investigated UpRight Law. The council reviewed the investigation documents collected by the Attorney General.
“It became clear that SL wasn’t the only Iowa client frustrated by an experience with UpRight Law,” the board said in its reprimand to Dubuque’s attorney. “There was a lot.”
Among other Iowa cases cited by the board:
– In January 2017, an Iowan identified only as BW contacted UpRight Law about bankruptcy, but four months later, on May 12, decided to cancel his contract with the company and requested reimbursement of his down payment of $1,358. The last note in his customer file, dated two months later, stated that the customer “called for a refund approximately 33 business days. Within normal time” – suggesting that at that time a refund had not yet been issued.
– In July 2018, HW of Iowa hired UpRight Law and was assigned a “partner attorney” from Iowa to handle the case. This lawyer later resigned from his partnership with UpRight Law. Eight months later, Upright Law noted in its filing that HW had to repay the full amount it owed the firm. A week after this notation, the client called UpRight Law to check on the status of her refund and advised that she needed the money immediately due to wage garnishments she was facing. A month later, she called back. As of June 2019, she still had not received her refund.
— In December 2018, RS of Iowa requested reimbursement from UpRight Law. Five months later, in April 2019, and after numerous calls and emails, she was still waiting for the refund. When she told the company she would be filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Iowa Attorney General, the company reportedly responded by saying she was “not scamming anyone” and added that staff of the company “does not specialize in refunds”. We file bankruptcies.
— In April 2019, TB of Iowa requested reimbursement from UpRight Law. After making a few calls to check on the status of the application, she threatened to file complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Iowa Attorney General. The company reportedly responded by warning that such complaints would lead to an investigation by management, which could further slow down the refund process. “Despite UpRight Law’s attempt to force her not to file a complaint,” TB filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the council said.
In her complaint, TB wrote that during her first consultation with a non-lawyer, the employee told her she met the criteria for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, collected her credit card information debit and, before he could even speak to a lawyer, his account was charged for the cost of the deposit. She was then contacted by a local attorney who told her she was nowhere near meeting the Chapter 7 filing criteria, but for an additional $1,100 she might be able to pursue a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At this point, TB dropped the case, but was unable to obtain immediate reimbursement from UpRight Law.
The Disciplinary Board of Prosecutors reported that at the end of 2020, UpRight Law received an “F” grade from the Better Business Bureau for failing to respond to complaints “and for receiving several hundred complaints”. According to the council, the office found that a recurring theme of complaints was non-reimbursement of money paid for services that were never provided.
The board also noted that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Alabama sanctioned UpRight Law for allegedly mishandling client records, practicing law without permission, and failing to provide clients with adequate notice of charges. Additionally, court-appointed trustees in bankruptcy cases across the country have filed lawsuits against UpRight Law in cases suggesting the firm relies heavily on non-lawyers for client contact and decision making.
“Typically, these lay employees engage in hard-selling tactics to register people for bankruptcy in order to meet their sales targets and earn a commission,” the board said, adding that many of these tactics were still being used when he started looking. in the practices of Upright Law.
In addition, the board found that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia revoked UpRight Law privileges, barring the company from doing business in the district for a period of five years. In that same action, the firm and its Chicago attorneys were collectively fined $250,000 and two of the firm’s partner attorneys in Virginia were each fined $5,000.
After reviewing UpRight Law’s history, the Attorney Discipline Board concluded that Iowa licensed attorneys who partner with the firm to represent Iowa in court “should not be allowed to distance themselves.” improper and unethical actions taken by non-lawyer staff affiliated with the main office in Chicago. .”
The board said “many Iowa UpRight Law clients were struggling to get their advance refunded in a timely manner,” and added that people seeking help filing for bankruptcy are vulnerable, know a lot of financial stress,” and cannot wait months for a refund.
The board, which only has jurisdiction over licensed Iowa attorneys, has taken no action against UpRight Law, but recently issued a public reprimand to at least one of the firm’s Iowa attorneys, Christopher Soppe of the Pioneer Law Office in Dubuque. According to the board, Soppe first entered into a contractual relationship with UpRight Law in 2014.
It’s unclear what action, if any, the Iowa Attorney General’s office has taken as a result of its investigation into UpRight Law.
When asked for comment, a representative for UpRight Law said on Tuesday that he would pass contact information for the Iowa Capital Dispatch to the company’s general counsel “and if they want to get back to you, they will. will do”.
Sopp declined to comment on the matter.
Another Iowa attorney, Michael Horn of Des Moines, said he and about half a dozen other Iowa attorneys who partner with UpRight Law received the same reprimand from the Disciplinary Board of Attorneys. , and all are based on the same set of conclusions.
Horn said he believes UpRight Law has solved the problem of prompt customer refunds.