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Paralegal Litigates Payment of Bonuses Per Alleged Oral Contract

How would you like to receive a 10% bonus from all the legal fees that your firm earned from cases that you worked on? It’d be a sweet deal if you could get it (especially in writing), albeit unethical. But Florida paralegal Patricia Patterson claims she had such a deal.

TCPalm.com reports that Patterson sued her former employer, personal injury attorney, Lauri Goldstein, over nonpayment of over $87,000 in bonuses that she contends are owed pursuant to an oral contract. The parties are in court again, having litigated this issue for the past four years. A judge initially found in favor of Goldstein, ruling that such an agreement would not be enforceable because it violates ethics rules regarding fee-sharing with nonlawyers. However, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal overturned the summary judgment, stating that if such a bonus arrangement existed it would be enforceable, even if it violated fee-sharing rules.

This litigation over unpaid wages is particularly notable in that Patterson alleges she had a compensation agreement based on a percentage of legal fees earned and is trying to recover a significant amount of money, while at the same time implicating Goldstein in a payment scheme that violates ethics rules prohibiting lawyers from sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer. An agreement to compensate a paralegal with a percentage of legal fees earned from specific cases would not only be unusual, but unethical.

But I’d think if there is little evidence of an oral contract, and this comes down to mainly a “she said she said” scenario that Patterson’s credibility may be a problem, since she admitted falsifying her application to get the job.

He also noted that on her resume, Patterson lied when she wrote she held a Bachelor of Science degree and had completed the Fort Pierce Police Academy.

Patterson admitted to adding the fabricated information to “beef up” her application.

“I should not have done that,” she said.

I’ve enjoyed a long career working for plaintiffs’ attorneys who handle civil injury cases, and have been fortunate to receive bonuses in the past, but I’ve never been promised payment of a bonus in advance, not on any basis.

What about you? Does your employer have a set bonus arrangement, based on other factors, such as years of service or a percentage of your annual salary? Or like Goldstein’s attorney contends is the case for her firm, does your firm have a written policy that states any bonuses will be paid at its discretion?

Sources: TCPalm.com; ABA Model Rule 5.4

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Contact Info:

Lynne J. DeVenny, N.C. State Bar Certified Paralegal

Owner & Virtual Paralegal, DeVenny Paralegal Services

Email: lynne.devenny[at]gmail.com

Telephone: 336-582-0003

Inquiries are welcome, with free quotes available.

Meet Lynne:

Lynne DeVenny is a North Carolina State Bar Certified Paralegal with over 27 years of experience working on complex litigation cases, including medical malpractice, personal injury, workers’ compensation, and Social Security disability.

Disclosure: I am not a lawyer and cannot provide legal representation or legal advice.

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