Problem with Attorney
WHAT TO DO WHEN A PROBLEM ARISES WITH AN ATTORNEY
It’s an unfortunate reality, but not all attorney-client relationships remain positive and successful. Disputes may arise when you and the attorney disagree or have a misunderstanding dealing with the handling of your case or even a fee dispute. Remember, communication is the key to every relationship, even the one with your attorney. At the first sign of a problem, get in touch with your attorney. If reaching him fails, send the attorney a letter addressing your concerns and keep a copy for yourself. If you continue to get ignored, you can file a Complaint or seek Fee Arbitration with the State Bar of California.
The State Bar’s disciplinary system is designed to protect the public, the courts and the profession from attorney’s who violate ethical rules covering their professional conduct. The State Bar investigates and prosecutes individual complaints against lawyers for disputes. For example, if an attorney failed to properly file a complaint and the statute of limitations has run, i.e. the time limit to file the complaint passed or the attorney failed to appear at a scheduled hearing and your case was dismissed for the attorneys failure to properly act – this behavior is considered unethical. In such instances you should register a complaint with the State Bar. There is no fee to file a complaint. To obtain a complaint form you can either call 1-800-843-9053 or go on the California State Bar’s web site www.calbar.gov.
Please remember the filing of a complaint is quite serious, false allegations can only make your problems worse. If you are unsure if your attorney violated his code of ethics, consult another attorney for advice.
Fee disputes also arise in cases where either a client feels their bill seems high or disputes arise as to the distribution of proceeds when a settlement has been reached. Referring back to my article last week, Attorney Fee Agreements – What You Should Know, the agreement you sign with your attorney is a contract. The attorney is obligated to provide you the services and you are obligated to pay for those services as outlined in your fee agreement, whether it is hourly or contingency. Once you have agreed with your attorney on a set price, even in the instance of a contingency fee agreement, do not attempt to negotiate that fee when the job is complete. This would be similar to contracting to build a house and when the house is complete, renegotiating your contract. Not only does this disrupt the attorney-client relationship, it is truly offensive and degrading to any attorney who has performed his obligation under the contract.
Nevertheless, there are instances where a dispute arises due to mishandling of attorney-client funds or unethical billing. In such a case, you can request for an Attorney-Client Fee Arbitration. This is an out-of-court hearing in which a neutral third party called an arbitrator listens to both sides, reviews the records presented and makes a final decision on the dispute. If either you or the attorney do not agree with the finding, you have thirty-days to file a complaint in Court; otherwise, the order automatically becomes a final judgment. You can contact the State Bar at 415-538-2020 to find a fee arbitration program in your area. If an attorney provides you the option of Attorney-Client Fee Arbitration, remember you have only thirty-days to accept this option. Otherwise, if an attorney files a complaint against you after the thirty-days, you can no longer request fee arbitration.
Lastly, in unfortunate incidents in which an unethical attorney has absconded with client funds, you should not only make a complaint by calling the State Bar’s office you should also ask for a Client Security Fund application to be mailed to you or obtain it from the State Bar’s web site. All California attorneys contribute to the Client Security Fund and if an investigation shows that your attorney took your money unlawfully, the fund may pay back all or part of your loss up to a set amount.
Remember, to consider all of your options, and consult another attorney to help you determine which option best suits your individual situation.
This column is produced by Mary Der-Parseghian, Esq. For questions or comments, please send your message to 4727 Wilshire blvd., Suite 301, Los Angeles, CA 90010; E-mail: Mary@MaryDLaw.com or call at 323-937-2727. For additional articles please visit our webpage at www.MaryDLaw.com.
© 2011. Der-Parseghian Law Group