TSR Injury Law, one of the higher- profile personal injury firms in the Twin Cities, Tuesday accused a competitor of stealing potential clients in a scheme that included kickbacks for referrals and the wining and dining of TSR associate lawyers.
In a lawsuit filed in Hennepin District Court, TSR said sole practitioner Michael Riehm of Minneapolis conspired with two TSR associates, one for at least a year and a half, to obtain as many as 200 cases that first went to the TSR firm.
Bloomington-based TSR said it does not know how much the firm might have lost in terms of fees from the allegedly purloined clients but is seeking damages from Riehm of at least $150,000.
In an interview Tuesday, Riehm vehemently denied the allegations and said TSR is out to "embarrass me and shake me down for money."
"It had nothing to do with me. They're just looking for deep pockets," Riehm said in an interview. "It's not for me to police what their employees do."
But the attorney representing TSR, Christopher Madel of Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi, said in a prepared statement, "We intend to prosecute our claims with all the vigor the law allows."
According to the lawsuit, Riehm allegedly paid "tens of thousands of dollars" to one of the TSR associates for case referrals. The lawsuit said the referrals were made without the approval of the firm's partners, as required by an internal policy.
The associate, Matthew McCollister, stated in an affidavit that "I participated in an on-going scheme to divert potential TSR Injury Law clients to Michael Riehm in exchange for a referral fee."
McCollister, who has since left TSR and could not be reached for comment Tuesday, said he believed he referred 100 to 200 cases to Riehm.
Riehm said the referrals were largely "garbage cases" that TSR likely wouldn't take as its own. He said he took perhaps 5 percent of the cases as clients.
TSR partner Steve Terry said, "It's still theft." Terry also said Riehm offered $50,000 to settle the case before the lawsuit was filed. "What lawyer would settle for $50,000 if a case was frivolous?" Terry said.
TSR, which has been around in its current form of four partners since 2009, is known for its aggressive use of billboards and television to market its services.
The dispute between TSR and Riehm illustrates the retail side of personal injury law where firms deal directly with individual clients and take little cases as well as big ones to generate a steady flow of income.
"There can be big bucks in a single case,'' said Jason Marisam, an assistant professor at Hamline University Law School. "But day in and day out, it is a high-volume model. "
While malpractice claims between law firms have increased in recent years, it is still unusual to see a lawsuit between two firms over the alleged theft of potential clients.
According to the lawsuit, Riehm would send referral checks to McCollister's home or give them to him over lavish dinners and evenings out, one of which included a limo and a trip to a Minneapolis strip club.
The alleged scheme was uncovered in December 2011, when an accident victim called TSR looking for "Mike" and said that McCollister had told him Mike would be calling.
Terry confronted McCollister, who then acknowledged the alleged referral scheme.
According to the lawsuit, a second associate, Robert Dolan, acknowledged that he referred 13 cases to Riehm. Terry said Dolan also left the firm.
David Phelps 612-673-7269