In the past several months, our firm has been approached by several people, requesting us to take over their case from their present attorney. For that, I am very grateful. I am always fascinated as to why people hire certain attorneys and why they decide they want to leave their attorney. This curiosity leads me to routinely ask a potential client how he or she ended up with a certain attorney. The explanations range from them finding the lawyer’s name in the Yellow Pages, to being referred by a friend, from receiving an unsolicited letter or to being approached by someone following their accident. While three of the four reasons stated above are legal, being approached by a lawyer, or someone on behalf of the lawyer, at the scene of an accident is not legal. In fact, it can be a criminal offense. Referrals tend to be a good way to find a lawyer, however, not all lawyers are the same and not all lawyers handle the same types of cases. The Yellow Pages, Internet or solicitation letters are also starting points to find a collection of attorneys that practice in your area of need and that should be interviewed be-fore deciding which attorney is best for you.
Once the client is satisfied with the initial decision, what changes to cause their dissatisfaction with the attorney, such that, they want to find a new attorney to handle their case? In most cases, it seems that a client becomes anxious because there is no communication between the attorney or his office, and the client. A client’s claim is often an all consuming experience and is one of the most uncertain events in their life. The attorney that does not communicate with his/her client fails to recognize the need for a flow of communications with the client on how the case is progressing. Studies have shown that the failure to communicate with their clients is the number one problem for attorneys with the State Bar.
Other reasons clients change attorneys arise from out of control attorney’s fees being charged, disciplinary charges leveled against the lawyer, an inability to access the attorney or just the lack of confidence that the attorney has their best interest at heart. Whatever the reason, that reason is probably justified. The business of lawyering is not the business of argument and contention. Rather, it is the business of problem solving, unifying and serving the interests of another. Nearly every interaction with an attorney starts with a problem, a dispute or a need. Resolving the problem, bringing the parties together in resolution of the dispute or guiding the client to the best result for her is probably why the lawyer was hired in the first place. Can all problems or disputes be resolved? Of course not. But, by making resolution a priority, the advocate puts the client’s interests above his own, the way it should be.
So what can you do if you find yourself engaged in an attorney-client relationship that does not seem to be working for you.
First, write and call your attorney’s office and express your concern and anxiety. You can not expect them to read your mind. You must express yourself as to what you need and want. Second, if that does not get their attention, request an opportunity to review the entirety of your file. The file belongs to you and you are entitled to see every bit of it. If you are still not satisfied, and believe that your best interests are not being placed first, go looking for a new attorney that will look after you. You are not bound to that attorney through-out your case. If you terminate your attorney, the attorney has an absolute duty to "promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property. ‘Client papers and property’ includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert's reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client's representation, whether the client has paid for them or not." State Bar Rule 3-700(D). Also, if you have an unearned retainer balance you paid the attorney, the fee should be promptly refunded following termination.
I try very hard to make my staff, and myself, accountable to my clients and to have us do our best. However, if I am not doing my job, let me know so I can correct the problem. If you are with an-other attorney, or know someone that is dissatisfied with their pre-sent representation, give us a call so we can provide the guidance you need as to what action, if any, should be taken.