Hi, I'd appreciate some feedback about my situation. I live in Florida, and a month ago I hired a Pennsylvania attorney to represent me in a case against a doctor in a failure to fulfill a contract case. We agreed that he would file the case in small claims court. I paid him a flat fee upfront, and I am responsible for all extra expenses. I provided him with all files and sent emailed responses to all his questions right away. Also I requested to be kept in the loop about his progress in the case. I've kept a file of all email correspondences with his office, and so far, there is nothing to indicate that he has even touched my case. His assistant assured me on a couple of occasions that he 'plans to start work on it by the end of this week', which was followed a week later by 'next week'. A little over a week ago, I reminded him that time is going by and I'd like to file the case soon. An innocent comment that was followed by him calling me a day or two later, and proceeding to tell me that he fears I am setting him up for a failure, and that he may not be able to do anything to make me happy, and that he would be willing to return the balance of my money that he has not yet used up. He kept assuring me that he is doing everything he can to 'protect me', and that I should trust him. His manner was very aggressive, as if he were interrogating me on a witness stand in some bad version of Matlock. He took several things I've said or asked of him, and twisted them around to make me sound like a crazy person. He seemed to have a problem with the fact that when I respond to email from his associate and his assistant, I do not hit the 'reply all' button. Then he said that he would call me this week. I followed up with a very pleasant email to summarize our conversation, and to have a written record of what had happened. I have not received a response to that email and I have not heard from him all week. Very unprofessional conduct on his part. I was very angry but I kept my cool. I am his paying client and I felt like he was trying to discredit me. This is not a contingency case, so he can lose and still get paid. I think that he wanted me to give him reason to drop me as a client. I expect him to represent me to his best ability until the case is over. Clearly he is a complete jerk, but he is a good attorney. What are my rights as far as making sure that he does not drop the case because of some perceived offense? Thank you.
Hi, my name is XXXXX XXXXX I am a Pennsylvania Licensed, Practicing Attorney and I will be glad to assist you,
a client can fire his Attorney at any time. There are only a few instances, however, where an Attorney can drop a client without requesting the permission of the Court. Where litigation has not been started in a case, an Attorney can drop a client . In cases where litigation has been started, the Attorney would have to file a "Motion for Leave to Withdraw", have a hearing where the client can express his objection or acquiescence, and ask the Court's permission to withdraw from a case.
I wish that I could tell you that there is a way to guard against the Attorney dropping your case, but since he has not started litigation, the only way that he would be prevented from dropping the case is if the Statute of Limitations was about to expire.
If he wants to drop your case, he can pick on anything you say and act like you have offended him. That would take a lot of nerve on his part, but it would not be the first time I have seen this happen. In Pennsylvania, it is a rule that all Attorneys must follow that when an Attorney takes on a client, he/she is required to sign a Retainer Agreement with the client and the client gets a copy of this. This Retainer Agreement outlines the Attorney's responsibility to the client and outlines the scope of the Attorney's representation. Your rights will be found in the "four corners" of the Retainer Agreement.
He is not acting in a professional or responsible manner because under the Rules o Conduct and the Code of Professional Responsibility, an Attorney has the obligation to keep the client informed about the status of his case at all times. If he has his assistant or paralegal communicating with you, he should not be complaining if you reply to them. He has the obligation to communicate with you, not the other way around. You do not have to an extra mile and copy him on everything if he has not given you the courtesy of communicating with you directly. You have a right to expect that any communication you have with his assistant, secretary, paralegal, or anyone else he has working on your case, will be transmitted to him. He is probably charging you his hourly rate for work that he has his secretary doing. I imagine you probably have not asked him for an itemized bill which an Attorney is supposed to send to clients periodically.
Please allow me to say this - If you allow him to intimidate you, then he will intimidate you. You are a paying client (but even if you were not a paying client) the fact that the Attorney accepted your case, and your money, imposes on him the obligation to act in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct and if his behavior falls below that, he can be reported to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board. Believe me, the Pennsylvania Board is so strict, they even examine our conduct in our personal lives!
If you do not assert your right to know the status of your case, he does not appear to be the type that would give you the status voluntarily, even though he has an obligation to do so. You should not be afraid of him, or afraid to ask him point blank, "Why hasn't the case been filed with the Magisterial District Court yet?" or, "What seems to be the problem or the reason for the delay?", or "When do you anticipate the case being filed with the Magisterial District Court?" Remember, the best defense is an offense and if he has done nothing on your case, he figures by taking the offense, he will intimidate you enough so that you do not ask questions, and that is what it looks like he is doing. I hope that the Statute of Limitations is not yet an issue in your case.
What County is this and what is the nature of the case ?
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thanks Andrea. I appreciate your compassionate and detailed response. I'm not normally easily intimidated but I am in a tough spot, or I'd tell him where to go. I hate the fact that he has such an enormous advantage over me. I was worried paying a lawyer and losing the case would be the worst outcome, but I did not expect my own attorney to become my problem. It makes no sense-he is successful, so he does not need to rip off a thousand dollars from me. Plus, I would file a dispute with my credit card for his fee, but then I'd be without a lawyer and it took me a while to find one who'd take this case. I have no doubt that he would charge me several hundred dollars for the privilege of having his secretary print out my emails and round up to the next hour every single minute spent on my case. The contract is not signed by him, incidentally - just by me. Is this a violation? It also states that any disputes with his law firm must be resolved by arbitration. I do know that regardless of what he put in his contract, if it interferes with my legal rights, then he can't enforce it.
The nature of the case, in a nutshell...a little over one year ago, I had a facelift performed by a plastic surgeon who practices in Montgomery County, PA. I used to live in Philly myself, and he did another procedure for me which turned out great, so I trusted him. This time, he did not tighten my face enough, and it began to show very soon after my surgery. It is not unusual to need an adjustment and it is customary that the p.s. will do a secondary procedure within a year without charging a fee, and just have patient pay any related anesthesia expenses. He refused to do anything, insisting that he had done a great job. However, I disagreed, as did 4 other Board Certified plastic surgeons. So it was necessary for me to pay another surgeon in Florida to do it all over. I did not think it was smart to handle this case myself, so I hired Harper Dimmerman law firm, located in Philadelphia. He made a great impression on me at first, very prompt and respectful, and his jr. associate to whom he directed the case, seems like a great guy but new to law. He could have declined the case, as many attorneys did - but taking it and then acting like a jerk is not acceptable. What would the disciplinary board to if it came to sending them a letter of complaint?
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