Dealing with a Bad Lawyer

You searched carefully, you crossed your fingers, and you made your decision. You hired a lawyer who said he or she could solve your problem and protect you in court. Now your lawyer seems to have lost interest in your case. The secretary won’t let you get through, or you get nothing but voicemail. And the lawyer doesn’t return your phone calls. What can you do? Here are some suggestions for dealing with a bad lawyer.

First, if you have a lawyer who is difficult to reach, don’t rely on the phone. Use the mail. Write a letter to your lawyer. Describe in your letter the expectations you have about the lawyer’s services. If you expect the lawyer to return your call within two business days (which is reasonable in anybody’s book), say so. If you need to know what has happened to the money you gave your lawyer, ask for an accounting so you know where you stand financially.

As you write, be careful to describe only what you have observed. Avoid making assumptions about behaviors you haven’t seen or heard or about your lawyer’s motives for actions he or she has taken. As long as you confine your statements to what you have observed, it enhances your credibility.

It’s often a good idea to schedule a meeting with your lawyer to get your questions answered and to find out what remains to be done on your case. Know that you will pay the lawyer for the time it takes, but that’s often the smartest money you can spend, particularly if you and your lawyer aren’t communicating well without it. When you go to the lawyer’s office, take a buddy, someone who can be an extra set of eyes and ears. That’s not because you don’t trust your lawyer; it’s because you’re in the middle of a divorce (or other stressful event), and you’re in crisis. It’s easy for you to forget to ask something that’s important to you, so your buddy can help you remember.

Before you go to meet with the lawyer, WRITE DOWN all your questions. Remember, you’re in crisis. Writing down the questions will help you remember those things you wanted to talk about.

You will impress your lawyer if you make it clear that you’re being as attentive to the things YOU need to be doing as you are to the things your lawyer needs to be doing. It’s a common complaint of lawyers that their clients seem to want their lawyer to jump through 16 hoops but then don’t take responsibility for the smallest of tasks the client needs to be doing. If you avoid that trap, you’ll win some points with the lawyer.

Now, everything I’ve said before assumes you’re dealing with a lawyer who may not have done a great job communicating with you but is fundamentally conscientious. This kind of lawyer usually needs simply a reminder to get his or her service back on track.

Let’s talk about the lawyer who just won’t respond at all or who rejects any attempt on your part to restore communication. First, check your payment of the lawyer’s bills. If your lawyer has asked for payment on your account and you haven’t paid, it’s not at all unusual for the lawyer to want to avoid spending any more time on your account. Divorce lawyers worry incessantly about getting their bills paid, and no lawyer I know wants to spend time on a client who won’t pay his or her bill.

If you’re square with the lawyer financially and he or she still won’t respond, you may need to get the bar association involved. Call the Alabama State Bar Association at (800) 354-6154. Tell them you want to file a complaint about poor service from an attorney who is a member of the bar (all lawyers practicing law in Alabama must be members of the Alabama State Bar Association). They will send you a form you can fill out and mail in. If you wish, you can go to the Alabama State Bar Association web site and print the complaint form yourself.

What happens after you file a complaint with the bar association? Here’s the explanation from the bar association’s pamphlet on filing a complaint against a lawyer.

All complaints filed with the Alabama State Bar are reviewed by Bar counsel to determine if the complaint has sufficient merit to warrant a full investigation. In most cases, a copy of your complaint is sent to the lawyer for a response. Once the lawyer’s response is received, your complaint and his response will be reviewed again by Bar counsel to determine what further action, if any, should be taken. You will be sent written notification of the decision. If it is determined that there is insufficient evidence to merit a formal investigation, then you will be notified. However, if there is sufficient information to establish that an ethics violation possibly occurred, a formal investigation will be opened. Some investigations will be sent to local Bar grievance committees, and others will be investigated by [the General Counsel's Office of the Alabama State Bar].

The processing of most formal investigations at this stage can take anywhere from six to eighteen months, depending on the complexity of the situation. You will be notified in writing about the outcome of your complaint. You may be contacted during the investigation. If a hearing is held before the Disciplinary Board, you will be required to attend and testify.

The bar association has a smorgasboard of actions it can take against your lawyer, ranging from probation, requiring the lawyer to submit to additional monitoring, to permanent disbarment whereby the lawyer cannot practice law again for five years and not even then without formally petitioning for reinstatement.

22 comments to Dealing with a Bad Lawyer

  • I cannot read what you have put on the screen. Half of it is blocked. I would like to know what happens after receiving a divorce by default when there is a request for a settlement?

  • leeborden

    Thanks Lillian. Can you send me a screen shot? lee@divorceinfo.com. I’m not able to understand your second question.

  • Jack

    Thank you to The Author,
    the article is useful to me because of i am in this situation and i can’t get out of it. My lawyer is difficult to reach, i call her and she never return my call onec. I live in virginir…do you have any info about place that i can make a complaint? It’s now take her almost a year to do my case and notthing that she have done to the case. please give me some idea what i have to do? my e-mail add is jackt_@hotmail.com

    once again thank you so much for the article. Jack

  • My lawyer is taking along time with this divorce he said that it would be final in April and here it is now August and no divorce I feel like my lawyer is out for money from me,my file was in the dead file said to me by the secretary. I gave my lawyer 3,000.00 dollars and he wants more money and here it is now that he sent me a bill for 2,000.00 more I don’t think it cost 6,000.00 for a uncontested divorce.We do not have children I did start out with cruel and inhuman nature but didn’t want much from him just my things that I brought into the marriage.It has been over a year that we have been separted.Can you please help me.

    Thank you,

    Cheryl Jordan

  • Torie Martin

    I have been dealing with an attornet for my divorce who has been very difficult to communicate with. Hard to get a hold of, large office staff turn over, showed up an hour and half late for our appt. stating must have been computer scheduling issues, a phone conference scheduled that never took place because she said she did not know anything about it…anyway…she ended up withdrawling from my case instead of letting my new attorney assume role as my council. My question is…is it customary for attorneys to review previous emails and other info on a case that they are withdrawing from and charge the client? I was charged for several hours of reviewed materials and her time to withdrawl from my case. Should I really be charged for her withdrawing from my case?

  • My guess is that’s not unusual for the attorney to charge for the time she takes to withdraw. On the other hand, I would think that once she decided to withdraw, she would no longer charge you for time spent preparing it for trial. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether her review time was focused on processing the withdrawal or preparing it for trial . . .

  • Judy

    I can relate to Chery’s case, as mine has been drawn out since July, and it’s almost the end of March. As with her case, mine was also an uncontested divorce. I’m getting close to paying $10,000 now, including the $500 I had to pay a mediator. My husband only had to pay his attorney $4,500. When I called my attorney’s office for explanation of my last invoice, actions taken ended up costing me even more money. On the phone the paralegal told me I could deduct $125, but it showed up on my bill again. Also I paid $500 last month for ‘prepare divorce judgement’, and it’s on my new bill again for $500 with a different date. Where does this end? What are my options?

  • Write down your questions, and then ask to meet with your lawyer, not about the case, but about the bill. If you think it would help, feel free to ask a friend to come along who can be an extra set of eyes and ears. When your conversation is over, confirm what you and your lawyer discussed in writing. That way, if you misunderstood something, your lawyer can correct it right away. Do understand, however, that unless there’s a clear agreement otherwise in advance, your lawyer will charge you for the time it takes to meet with you, even if it’s just to talk about your bill.

  • JENNIFER COOLEY

    Lee, I am having several problems with my case, This is a custody dispute with my ex husband,. Dhr is involved and other isp memeber, It seems as if I am being played by these people,such as blackmail. My ex husband has been doing a numerous of things,such as violation of court orders for one. Then he has been having sex with his 20 yr old girlfriend, and doing these things infront of the kids. The dhr worker and the kids (gal) attorney for them has said they found evidence to be true, but wont remove the kids, because they would go to fostercare. I am not understanding this! I have standard visitation and have full custody of one child, that was by someone else, that brough into court as a sibling, I am not understanding how this is working through the family court of jefferson county. One minute they agree to return custody to me, and then the next minute to dont. This is mentally effecting me and my children. Oh They are getting abused too, for talking about what is going on at their father’s house and being punished for talkinga bout it. Such as the family counselor, dhr , kids attorney, they are all reporting back to my ex husband on what the kids are telling them..What can I do..Nothing is getting done. I havent seen the judge, all they are doing is continue the cases.. please advice or help., I am in need of some extreme help here, please

  • tammy

    hi i am hoping you can help me! 4 1/2 years ago i fell in a pot hole and broke my leg , my wrist ,my knee, i was refered to an attorney he said he would take my case and snt m to his doctors for casts ect, since it was city property a paking lot my aty said were were sueing the city and the contractors, h kepd telling me it was going to take yeas for the cas to go to trial i would call to see how things we going and he said every thing was going fine then there was about five times we were to meet with the city that i would have to take off work to find out hey were cancelled when i got there .then after 2 yas had went by i went to the office with all my ? written down but to find out my atty said oh i am sorry i never filed your case , i was up set but he said he would file it ight away he called me into the office and stated all of a sudden he was not a trial atty but he works with a firm that are trial attys and at no xtra cost if we ever went to trial thy would handle it. a week later i was informed that the other atty s are now my only attys.another two years go by they lost papes , did not show up for court hearings after telling me the time and date,cancelled mediations, then in one court hearing i find out my atty wanted anime not the other atty i did every thing they asked me at the doctors they only wanted a wist xray and i said dont you want to take a xray of my leg the nurse said no then i am back in court and they are saying i wouldn’t let them take a xray of my leg ,what lies,the bottom line we goto mediation my atty all of a sudden says or wee not sueing the city only the contractor, but the citys there giving there side of the story the mediator says the offer is 100,0000, half fault which is 50,000 my atty tells me thats just the contactor the citys not init but with doctors fees attys fees my share is 1,000 theni would owe taxes so i said no and then all of a sudden the atty i first had and my new atty a sceaming at me you are going o take it we are in this for the money and this is what you are getiing, i said no and wnt home then about two hours later i gt a call from my newer atty we will give you 10,0000 tax and bill free but thats it ,i said no then another two hours goby and they call again what do you want he says , i start to try to undersand how that is going to wok out and he starts screaming at me again he’s not taking this case to trial, he doesn’t belive oin this case. now so i give in and say ok i said how long will it take to get the moneys he replies oh it will take the city loner to deposit thee check but the contractor will deposit theres sooner ,so iam thinking didn’t he just say in mediation we weren’t sueing the city any more? my Q? is is it 50 thousand each or is it 50,000 both? what is 100,000 half blame mean? or half fault mean? does any one no? thank you

    also to the person on question 9. you could file your own pettion to the court, for a costody hearing or if your x has threatend you or your children you could file a restraining oder and you would go befor a judge within a week to discuse the matter and that judge can make a ruleing, i no because i have a x that oweds 65,000 in child support and we got into an argument befor we were devorcied and i called the police they said to go file a restraining order i did the next week i was in court befo a judge which gave me costody of my two children and ordered child support income deduction order, untill we got a final devorce there is also free devorce kits and costody kits you can get at your local state attys office or legal aid to all out there i have been to court 32 times with my x and learned you do not need an atty to represent you in a divorce, you only need a loud voice and recepts or evidence good luck

    also i gave an atty one time 500.00 for a child support non payment and never heard from him again i learned a lot about attys there is alot of bad ones out there try to find some new young atty that really wants to help you, because i have learned most attys are no good

  • Peg

    Our Divorce was no surprise, we were seperated and initially worked on it ourselves. I thought we were doing a decent job on it. THEN the Lawyers got involved!!!I’ve been going through the Divorce since Jan 2006. Paid out $30,000.00 and owe over $5000.00 more, and that’s just for ME, out of my own pocket. No child custody issues, kids are in college, he makes nice Nuclear Engineer salary, close to $200,000.00. I was a stay at home mom, no college or career training. I did side jobs like house cleaning for spending money, he controlled all money, I hated to beg for $$ although I’m VERY thrifty, (never knew what he really made!!) I’m not awarded Spousal Support! HE has both houses, cars, camper, Vacation Timeshares, 95% of everything. I was locked out of the house 2 years ago, (I let him move back in so he can save $$ until he found another place, he lived in th elower 1/2 of the house)He took me off all accounts/credit cards. I’m struggling on my own trying to build a new life. I’m 50 years old, hard to get a good paying job with no experience. I’m exhausted trying to keep up with Legal fees and pay bills too. I feel my existence is just to give my hard earned money to others while I settle for very very little. Just can’t understand how the court or Judge could let this go on for almost 3 years…..then, a lightbulb went on. Maybe the Judge is not aware because my jerk of a Lawyer hasn’t represented me justly, fairly or compassionately!! I’ve only been before the Judge ONCE in 3 years! The Lawyers did everything behind closed doors without us in listening. I have no idea what was said!! He probably made decisions for me without my consent! Got me in this hell of a mess! I’ve asked for my files back to get another Lawyer, nothing. I’ve had a meeting with one of the Law Firm owners, he said he’d work on it and would get back in two weeks. A month went by, he didn’t even start on it. Called the Court pleaing for help, the Clerk called them to tell them it was on the calendar twice before to be completed and to get it done. Nothing. Finally I wrote the Judge, they contacted me back, now we all have to appear before him and have him hear what’s going on and why it’s taking so long. After this is all over, do you think I have grounds to file a complaint against my Lawyer? And if I’m offered this lousy no Spousal Support settlement, should I appeal it? Am I entitled to some of my Legal fees back from my spouse? They even wanted me to allow my spouse 2 years to buy me out of the houses! Doesn’t seem to balance out, he has most of everything, I was tossed out with nothing and they expect ME to give him a break! Not only was I conned by my spouse all these years, seems like my Lawyer took advantage of my mild personality too. I don’t trust Lawyers now, I thought I found a good one after interviewing several. The system HAS to do something about them! It’s not fair.

  • Jim

    I could of used this information before my brother committed suicide because of his lawyer David Oles of Alpharetta GA. He not only got my brother thrown in Jail Mr. Oles paralegal Donna was having an affair with my brother Gregg.

    Jim

  • DEBI

    CAN SOMEONE ANSWER THE COMMENT MADE BY PEG ON 11-19-2008 NUMBER 11 ?UNBELIEVABLE AS IT MAY SEEM I HAVE HAD SOMETHING SIMILAR HAPPEN AND MY DIVORCE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR 5 YEARS. ARE THERE ANY ACTIONS WE CAN TAKE AGAINST COMPLETELY BIASED JUDGES? SOME HOW THE SYSTEM IS FAILING. HOW CAN WE NOW PROTECT OURSELVES AND FIGHT FOR WHATS RIGHT IN THESE TYPE OF SCENARIOS.PLEASE ANY ADVISE AND STEPS TO TAKE.

  • If you believe your judge is biased against you (a sentiment experienced by many family law litigants even when the judge is trying to be fair), you can report it to the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission. Their web site seems more or less dormant, but the phone number on that dormant web site is (334) 242-4089. I would start by calling them.

    As for Peg in Post #11, I didn’t respond because it seems like it’s a little too late in the process to be addressing it now. I invite anyone who disagrees with me to make suggestions about actions that Peg could take.

  • Suzanne Csanady

    I have a huge problem with getting finality to a short-term divorce. I was married for 2.5 years when I was physically abused and left. I hired a lawyer ang paid a $7,500 retainer. It is now almost 2.5 years later, have been to court 1 time, and this simple divroce drags on. My ex does not want to give me my money and is dragging his feet – my laywer is not moving anything along, even though I have asked for a final master hearing for the past year. I also now owe (and have paid $100/month) over $9,000 and am disgusted at this point. I am also unemployed and need my money. I get little to no communication from my lawyer – please advise with suggestions, I have emailed, called, and want closure.

  • The first suggestion I made above was to write a letter and send it in the mail. Have you done that? If not, do so, following the suggestions above.

  • Heartbroke

    Please Help!!I need advice about a bad judge and DHR took my grandbaby that I had for 6 years with no grounds so they could give her back to drug and mental illness parents..Have had to hire new lawyer cause the old one was a joke am now waiting without my baby girl..Judge would not give her back to parents but gave her to Dhr so they could reform parents:ha ha we have tried for 9 yrs.Please anyone with advice!!

  • bkwf

    I have read your answer and have read other posts. I have to say that I am not one of these clients who can’t get her lawyer on the phone in a certain amount of time. I am not a client wishing to transfer problems with my ex onto my attorney. I hired a guy who has literally done nothing but harmful things for close to 2 years. He has made numerous mistakes (like filing the intitial complaint twice), he hired a PI for me and then never let them go – leaving me with a huge bill. When we thought that we were close to settlement, he turned the file over to the opposing counsel to write up instead of writing it himself. He filed a motion for psych eval on my husband without telling me about it. And I am close to 2 years into this process and have never had an ER hearing – depite many requests for such. Further, I requested a restraining order and was ignored.

    I call and the phones have been disconnected.
    The attorney that actually did any work on my case left the firm a few months ago. When I inquired as to how my case would be handled in her absence, I was contacted and told that he wished to withdraw as counsel from my case. according to our agreement, I am paid up “until trial” – I realize now that this was a mistake and I should have had different terms. I realize that he is trying to push us into trial so that he can get more money. However, I have paid this man roughly $20K and I expect to at least have child support in the 2 years that I have been separated.

    I wasnt o sue my lawyer. I feel that I have a case. Can you help?

  • GAIL

    PEG I feel for you, your situation sounds a lot like mine, I ended up applying for a federal job at a grade five. Saved my life. I also hired a financial advisor. He was worth his weight in gold. This is TERRIBLE that so many women in todays society are still being exploited by unscrupulous attorney’s and a failed judicial system. Something needs to be done about it.

  • ruby

    Hi i have been divorced for almost a year and on the decree it said that my ex has to pay a loan we took out. Well the ex said he wasnt goin to because its just under my name. i spoke to an attorney and since i cant pay the attorney i have to enforce a divorce decree on my own! i want to know if anyone has a sample on Motion To Enforce a Divorce Decree???? please

  • Start here: http://www.divorceinfo.com/enforcement.htm . Then if you need to hire a lawyer you should be able to improve the odds that your Ex pays your fee.

  • Feelingstuck

    Oh, I am not sure I feel better after reading these others stories of this utter he** dragging on for years! I am only 3 months into it and everything that the judge put in so far my stbx has disregarded. I was placed back in home with the two children, he refuses to pay any spousal support, income tax return that he efiled as married (I am a stay home mom and he is military) and put directly into his sep account that he transferred our joint money to, nor does he pay his child support either! I was homeless for 2 months trying to find help in shelter and was blessed enough that my mom paid for hotels when she could. I left as my (was my marriage) counselor highly suggested it due to being concerned for the escalating violence my husband was displaying. He had mentioned that he believed him to be a Narcacisst with psychopatch tendencies and I left with pretty much only with a few bags for me and the kids,broke and emotionally depleted. I came back to the house very scared but desp to have a place for me and the kids only to it completely emptied out (against the judges orders) where I have not been able to sleep because he put on a new security system (he can and has fun remotely controlling). He has pending investigations of sexual violation with the military and the judge still orders me to take my children every weekend to this monster! My lawyer basically does nothing to push the contempt and the children and I ARE the ones being hurt through it all daily. I am hesitant to tell my lawyer most of how this guy still traumatizes me daily. He acts as if I am nutters and has been nothing but one big expensive mess! Sometimes I swear the decisions he makes are as if he is working on the side for my ex. Signing papers I never agreed on, sending me emails with the wrong date for court where he just gives into the other attorney the one time I didn’t show due to his mistake. Then he comments he needs paid more! 5K already in just but a few court dates. Its terrible and literally I feel hopeless as I do not have the money to retain another attorney and suspect he will not pursue any actions for my husbands blantant neglect in not paying. He left us hoping to break me with deprivation. Nothing to cook with, or eat with, I sleep on the floor and taking even the toilet paper on the rolls when he left. This is an officer in the militay! I cant believe my lawyer actually has such a great reputation around town. Hard not to take it personal. What can I do? How could anyone not see this for how it is?

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