What should I do if I paid my attorney who didn’t do anything on the case and is asking for more, which I didn’t agreed upon in the first place? 11 Answers as of November 22, 2012

I hired an attorney to handle a child custody case with DHS. My son was taken due to father's actions. I wasn't involved in the incident but DHS took him anyway. This was two months ago and court has been delayed four times, twice due to my 'lawyer's' inability or unwillingness to appear in court. This week's date was postponed because he claims he's in the hospital when he's not. All medical records, case information, everything has been provided to him by me at great personal stress, difficulty, and expense. I have only spoken to him by phone three times including initial consultation. I met with him only once, which he was 45min late. I paid him at hire a $3500 retainer fee, and now he is saying that I agreed to pay ten thousand, which I did not. The new client form his paralegal sent me has no price on it anywhere and when asked to provide proof that I agreed to pay this, they sent me an identical but different document with a handwritten amount on a blank line. I have all the original emails and files to prove this was added after I sent the papers back, all without my consent. The typing is even different. I believe he purposely lied this month to get court cancelled because he knew I would not pay him $10,000 without having ever set foot in a courtroom. It also seems like they falsified some documents to make it seem like I agreed to something I didn't. My son has been away from me for almost three months now with no end in sight. Inquiries about life or death-important paperwork regarding my child’s custody have been ignored several times and I have paid him to do nothing, while I scramble and find out information on my own. I may as well be representing myself. I have complied 100% with DHS and completed everything they ask so without a court date. We are just wasting time and missing holidays, etc. with my child. The anguish I am living with is unreal and I thought his job as lawyer would be to get us in court as soon as possible, not to postpone it.

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Lapin Law Offices
Lapin Law Offices | Jeffrey Lapin
I do not handle child custody cases so I cannot provide any comments about that case. There is also insufficient information for me to speculate whether your attorney committed malpractice in the child custody case. As to your question, "What should I do if I paid my attorney who didn't do anything on the case and is asking for more, which I didn't agreed upon in the first place?" there are a couple of things you can do. You are free to discharge your attorney for any reason you want. If a lawsuit is on file, the attorney would have to ask the judge to be permitted to withdraw from your case. Judges routinely grant this request. Depending on the fee agreement, discussed below, he or she may be entitled to be reimbursed his or her costs and expenses as well as fee based on the time spent working on your case. Either before or after discharging your current attorney you can hire a new attorney to represent you. As to how much you owe your attorney, either now or if you discharge him, that would depend on the written agreement you actually signed when you hired him plus any additional documents regarding the attorney's fee. I would not pay money you do not rightfully owe. If you believe that your attorney forged or falsified documents you should contact Nebraska's Counsel for Discipline and report it. They will investigate and can determine what fee, if any, your attorney is entitled to, as well as whether your attorney has committed any ethical violations. If he has, he can be sanctioned.
Answer Applies to: Nebraska
Replied: 11/22/2012
Havens & Lichtenberg PLLC
Havens & Lichtenberg PLLC | Michael Lichtenberg
It appears that you have two problems: a) you need someone to take care of your child custody case, as promptly as possible; and b) you need to get the case file and the money back from the attorney who does not believe in doing what he/she was hired to do. Both problems seem to have the same solution: you need to change attorneys. First, retain a new attorney. Make sure that you get a signed retainer agreement spelling out the terms of your contract with the attorney, including his/her promise to act on your behalf in the child custody case immediately, without any delays. Second, send, by certified mail, return receipt requested (or by Federal Express - in this case, it might be worth the expense), a very polite letter to your previous attorney notifying him that he is no longer authorized to act as your counsel, and that he should immediately stop any work he might be doing on your case, send all case materials to your new attorney, and refund the retainer you paid him. From your description, it does not look like he has done much work for you; so he should refund all, or almost all, of your money. Your new attorney should be able to help you draft the letter. If your first attorney does not hand over the case file to your new attorney and/or does not refund your retainer, a complaint to the Disciplinary Committee of the Court usually helps to change the attorney's mind. Again, your new attorney should be able to guide you through the process and offer some additional means of persuasion. You are likely to see the process of getting the case into the hands of a new attorney as a setback. It is. But whatever time your new attorney will need to get up to speed on your case will (hopefully) not be wasted - unlike the time you might spend waiting for your current attorney to suddenly wake up and start doing his job. The most important aspect of the relationship between you and your attorney is trust. Once it is lost, it can almost never be regained; and you should look for representation elsewhere.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 11/12/2012
Lombardi Law Firm
Lombardi Law Firm | Steve Lombardi
Answer: In Iowa we would suggest, assuming what you say is accurate, that you hire a new attorney and consider filing an ethical complaint or file fee dispute with the Polk County Bar Association.
Answer Applies to: Iowa
Replied: 11/9/2012
The Lucky Law Firm, PLC
The Lucky Law Firm, PLC | Robert Morrison Lucky
You may wish to ask your current attorney for an accounting of all of the work performed and the charges for the work performed. If you dispute the work and/or the charges, you may wish to contact the Louisiana Bar Association as it has a fee dispute section that can likely assist you.
Answer Applies to: Louisiana
Replied: 11/6/2012
Law Offices of Ronald A. Steinberg & Associates | Ronald A. Steinberg, BA, MA, JD
Make an appointment to discuss it with the lawyer. If he cannot, or will not meet with you, get another attorney and file a grievance. If he meets with you and can explain why the delay, then give him a chance. If his story does not make sense, the get another lawyer and file a grievance.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 11/6/2012
    Gates' Law, PLLC | Thomas E. Gates
    You can file a complaint with the state Bar Association.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/6/2012
    Law Offices of Mark West
    Law Offices of Mark West | Mark West
    You can fire him, retain a new lawyer and then take him to small claims court for your fee back in an "attorney fee" dispute. If you look at the website for the court you will see forms for small claims - attorney fee dispute. Most of these claims are actually arbitrated and not tried in front of a court. You should ask your new attorney if there is other action which could be taken against this attorney.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/6/2012
    Bulman Law Associates PLLC Injury Law Firm
    Bulman Law Associates PLLC Injury Law Firm | Thomas Bulman
    What were the father's actions? Is he safely tucked away in prison for the foreseeable future? Write a letter to the attorney asking for the retainer back, or an itemized statement or you will be forced to contact the State Bar. Set a 10 day deadline, then complain.
    Answer Applies to: Montana
    Replied: 11/6/2012
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A.
    Paul Whitfield and Associates P.A. | Paul L. Whitfield
    The bar has a fee grievance committee. Tell them your story. Make sure it is accurate and not just emotion boiling over.
    Answer Applies to: North Carolina
    Replied: 11/6/2012
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo
    Law Office of Mark J. Leonardo | Mark Leonardo
    First, I am sorry you got one of the bad apples and secondly, that you are going through the stress of losing your son and trying to get him back. You have the right to change your attorney at any time. Do it now. Do not pay this guy another penny and you might even report his shenanigans to the State Bar. Also make a written demand (do this via email, fax or certified letter, return receipt) for (1) all of your files and (2) the return of your entire $3,500. You can tell him you will report him to the State Bar unless he returns the retainer. If you are positive that he lied to the court about being in the hospital, let him know that. He could suffer serious adverse consequences for lying to the court. He is required to have a signed agreement with you setting forth the rate. Even if it was $10,000, it is not a flat fee arrangement, it's a retainer that he bills against. I will point out, however, that sometimes clients think a lawyer has not done anything, but they have gotten the ball rolling, following court procedures. But clients want results, and they often want it yesterday. I suggest you interview as many family law attorneys as you can to see what the procedure is to deal with DHS and to get your son back, how long it will take, and a realistic expectation of the number of hours, and the cost, to get it done.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/6/2012
    Andrew T. Velonis, P.C.
    Andrew T. Velonis, P.C. | Andrew Velonis
    Report him to the local Grievance Committee. They will investigate and take appropriate action, which may include reimbursement of your fees.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/6/2012
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