State oversight agency alleges fathers’ rights lawyer Jeffery Leving charged ‘unreasonable fees’ to clients

A complaint filed by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission also accuses Leving of failing to refund unearned fees, in violation of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

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Attorney Jeffery M. Leving is photographed at his law office in Chicago.

Sun-Times

A Chicago lawyer known for his advocacy for fathers in custody cases has been accused of billing clients for thousands of dollars in fees that didn’t match the value of the work his firm performed.

A complaint filed in January by the state’s Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission and posted online this week accuses attorney Jeffery M. Leving of charging unreasonable fees to clients and failing to refund unearned fees, in violation of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.

Leving hasn’t filed his formal response to the complaint.

Leving’s firm promotes itself as “The Premier Chicago Family Law Firm” and focuses on representing fathers in divorce and child custody matters.

“Mr. Leving takes these allegations seriously. He disputes violating the code of professional responsibility and will defend these allegations vigorously,” a spokeswoman for the firm said in an email. “Mr. Leving’s firm has provided legal counsel for many thousands of clients over the decades and has reunited countless children with their fathers. He takes pride in these accomplishments.”

The complaint identifies eight clients who said they were billed thousands of dollars for legal services by Leving’s firm despite the firm accomplishing little on their behalf that would justify the fees.

In several cases, clients were charged so much beyond their initial retainers that they were forced to represent themselves in court because they lacked the money to hire another attorney, the filing states.

In one case, the commission wrote that Leving’s firm “did not accomplish any” of the client’s stated goals for their representation despite charging more than $20,000.

Clients said they were at times billed for legal services by several attorneys at the firm and for the services of a private investigator, for which they were not consulted. Those services quickly used up the clients’ retainers and led to them accruing additional fees, the complaint states.

Each time a new client retained the services of the Leving firm, a required meeting was held that included an intake attorney who first talked with the client, the firm’s managing attorney, a less experienced “mentee attorney” and a more experienced “mentor attorney” who would be assigned to cases jointly, according to the complaint.

“All four attorneys bill separately for the time spent attending this initial meeting,” the filing said.

If a mentee attorney went to court, they were required by the firm to be accompanied by a mentor attorney, regardless of the nature of the appearance, the filing claims. At Leving’s direction, “each attorney charged the client for at least one hour of time for the court appearance regardless of its actual length.”

Leving was aware of the fees being charged to clients, the ARDC alleges. During bi-monthly billing meetings, Leving “met individually with every attorney” he employed to discuss billing matters on each of the cases they were working on.

One client who sought the firm’s help to modify his child support payments agreed to pay the firm a $6,000 retainer, the filing states. When he was later billed, the firm allegedly charged him for work done by four attorneys, a paralegal, a private investigator and a legal assistant.

As a result, the client was told he owed thousands of dollars in additional fees, despite the firm never filing a motion to have his child support payments adjusted, the complaint states.

During the time the client was represented by the firm, the only pleadings filed for the client “were an appearance and a motion to withdraw,” the filing states.

The complaint alleges the value of the services the client received in the three months of representation “did not warrant the Leving Firm’s retention of the $6,000 it received ... or the additional $3,900.26” it attempted to collect, according to the filing.

Another client was charged nearly half their initial $10,000 retainer for 13 hours of time the firm’s lawyers “allegedly spent working on withdrawing” from the case, just days before the client’s case went to trial.

That client ultimately paid Leving’s firm $59,000 in legal fees, with the firm attempting to collect an additional $80,000 for less than three months of representation, the filing states.

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