Texas trial lawyers advertise heavily after each storm strike in the state, seeking to sign up clients in mass. As hailstorm litigation mounts, so do charges of illegal barratry.
Another issue may have surfaced: the use of non-lawyers to perform lawyer-level work in representing the thousands of hailstorm clients.
A slew of individuals who previously worked for known hailstorm attorneys are claiming lawyer-level work on their online resumes, such as negotiating settlements and drafting pleadings.
For example, almost two-dozen non-lawyers whose resumes are on indeed.com, a job seeking website, are claiming to have worked for Edinburg attorney Kent Livesay, an insurance litigator currently fighting accusations of barratry in civil court.
One of those jobseekers is Anthony De La Vina, who claims to have worked for Livesay from January 2011 to June 2014.
In that time, Vina: “Established personal injury claims” was a “liaison between client and adjuster” and “settled property damaged claims” while handling the “drafting and filling of legal documents," according to his resume.
Under education, Vina put “Edinburg High School, 2008 to 2012.” If Vina’s information on his resume is correct, he began working for Livesay around his junior year.
Another former Livesay employee, Abel Flores, says on his resume that he “negotiated and settled” pre-litigation files, in addition to serving as a “liaison between adjusters and clients.”
Michael Vallejo, whose past work experiences include forklift operator and cable technician, says on his resume that he “settled property damage cases daily” while in Livesay’s employ from 2003 to 2004.
According to the State Bar of Texas, paralegals are seemingly precluded from negotiating settlement agreements, as the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct require “competent and diligent representation” to a client.
A licensed lawyer can only provide such representation.
When asked to comment, Livesay’s office issued the following statement: "Attorneys at The Law Office of R. Kent Livesay, PC supervise and oversee the work of non-attorney employees. The (firm) does not control or verify the content or accuracy of former employee resumes."
None of the aforementioned former employees returned requests to verify the accuracy of their resumes.
The number of past Livesay employees with online resumes pale in comparison to a more renowned firm.
A search on indeed.com of people claiming the Mostyn Law Firm as a past or current employer netted 120 hits.
In her resume, Kennethia Jones, a “Support Staff” employee who presently still works for Houston attorney Steve Mostyn, arguably the founder of mass insurance litigation, says her duties involve preparing and modifying legal documents, including motions, orders and discovery documents.
Preparing legal documents for the public is reserved for duly licensed attorneys and to draft legal documents without working under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney is to engage in the unauthorized practice of law, according to the State Bar.
The Mostyn Law Firm has filed thousands upon thousands of lawsuits on behalf of insurance claimants over the past decade.
Currently, the firm employs 24 attorneys, according to its website.
The Mostyn Law Firm refused to confirm the accuracy of Jones' resume or whether the firm supervises her work.
A spokesperson for the firm, Joseph Madden, issued the following statement: "While the firm regularly makes itself available to speak to news organizations, we choose not to participate in any story written for the Record. According to its own website, the Record is owned by the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
“Unlike the parent companies of reputable news organizations, the Institute for Legal Reform and the US Chamber of Commerce - with which the ‘Institute’ is affiliated - are neither neutral nor objective. Rather, they have well-documented and aggressive legislative and political agendas, which are often at odds with the best interests of the clients represented by the Mostyn Law Firm. For these reasons, we will have no additional comments for any writer inquiring on behalf of the Record."
Like the Mostyn Law Firm, the Voss Law Firm, located in the Woodlands, has extended its reach beyond Texas borders and advertised heavily after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast, filing hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of victims, some of whom now claim their suits were dismissed because of lawyer neglect.
Before being admitted to the bar in November, Jamie Wilson worked as a law clerk for the Voss Law Firm from May 2013 to August 2013, managing more than “100 insurance cases concerning Hurricane Sandy and other storms.”
Wilson also “filed petitions and drafted settlement demands for attorney review,” according to his resume on indeed.com.
But not all former Voss employees claiming to have prepared legal documents say they did so for an attorney’s review, such as Laurie Dugdale, a paralegal who simply states she “drafted pleadings and discovery materials.”
Attorney Scott Hunziker, a managing partner at the Voss Law Firm, said Dugdale’s work, like all past and current paralegals at the firm, was done under lawyer supervision.
Hipolito Marquez claims in his resume that he “questioned and cross-examined witnesses throughout the course of trials” during his employment with the firm.
Hunziker called Marquez’s claim a “crazy assertion,” saying he “never ever went to a trial” and that he only did legal assistant work.
Hunziker also said Marquez is no longer with the firm and hasn’t been for nearly a year, even though Marquez claims to be presently employed by the firm on his resume.
Under education, Marquez said he has an Associate of Arts in Law from the University of Houston – Sugar Land.
Apparently though, law firms specializing in insurance claims aren’t the only ones in need of non-lawyer help when it comes to generating and handling mass litigation against insurers.
While employed by the Law Offices of Manuel Solis, an immigration firm, Erick Galeas says he worked as a “legal advisor” from 2013 to May 2015, where he:
“Efficaciously analyzed, reviewed and compiled paramount paperwork and evidence of new and pending insurance claims cases of over 2,000 clients which in return generated more than $50 million dollars in total revenues for all law firms involved.”
Photographs on social media show that the Solis firm sets up booths at flea markets seeking hail claim clients (see picture attached to story). A banner at the booth states that that Solis takes joint responsibility with the Mostyn law firm for the representation of the clients.
It is unknown whether the woman working the booth is a licensed attorney.
In addition to prohibitions against the unauthorized practice of law, it is a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct for a lawyer to fail in providing non-lawyer employed staff appropriate instruction and supervision concerning the ethical aspects of their employment.
Neither the Law Offices of Manuel Solis nor Galeas returned requests for comment.
All Texas lawyers have an obligation to report violations of the rules of professional conduct to the State Bar of Texas.
The Record contacted all individuals mentioned in the article with resumes on indeed.com. By the date this article was published, only Wilson had responded back, but declined to verify if the information he offered on his resume was correct.