In late July of this year, I hired an attorney to represent me in a contractual dispute against a client who refused to pay me as per our fully executed written contract. The sum in dispute is $26,850 which was held in escrow and later placed in an interest bearing trust account in my name at my attorney's office. The client initially only offered $15,000 and then increased it to $17,000 in September. We are now in November and I have instructed my attorney to accept $25,000. However, she does not return my weekly calls or emails in which I ask for an update as far as whether my client's attorney has provided a response. I have brought this lack of communication to her attention three times but she continues to ignore me. What I do receive regularly however is her bill of $300 per hour and it is now up to $2,950 with no end in sight. What kind of attorney doesn't return their clients' calls. I thought attorney's owe a fiduciary duty of professionalism to their clients and have to pass the professional responsibility exam. What else can I do to ensure that she replies and does not continue to run up the bill so as to make in economically unfeasible for me to proceed with any potential lawsuit, rather I will need to cut my losses and settle the matter. What are my rights and what course of action should I take against her?
2 Answers from Attorneys
One of the major complaints by clients against attorneys is failure to communicate with the client. It's possible that the attorney is out of town or ill. Nevertheless, you are entitled to the best representation possible. The attorney should not be billing you for time not spent on your case. If the attorney has staff, I would suggest that you arrange a face-to-face meeting to discuss your bill. Make sure in advance that you will not be charged for the time, as it does not involve any legal work but a dispute over what is happening. If you are satisfied with the discussion, then you could discuss what needs to be done to resolve the matter with your client. If the attorney continues to ignore you, your remedy might be to ask the State Bar to intervene on your behalf. Attorneys usually will sit up and take notice when they get a call from the State Bar.
You can fire your current attorney at any time and hire one who is diligent and responds to your calls, etc. Read your attorney-client retainer agreement to see if your attorney can place a lien on your case from which she can be paid. Demand, in writing/email that she offer $25,000 within 24 hours or you will retain someone else. You may want to hire someone who is better at communication, looking out for you and aggressively trying to settle the matter. You may also want to consider mediation if the other side agrees; it can be very helpful but usually costs approx. $400-600 per hour which the parties split.
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