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Richard - Bizlaw
Richard - Bizlaw, Attorney
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Experience:  30 years experience corporate, litigation, international
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What recourse do I have against an incompetent lawyer?

Resolved Question:

What recourse do I have against an incompetent lawyer?

It's over a small trust matter. My sister, the trustee, decided to ‘disinherit’ me from my fathers will and sought a Judge’s approval for it, even though this Trust did not otherwise need to go through probate. The incompetent attorney has turned out to a bigger problem than the thieving sister.

First off, there is only $20K at stake here. There were communication problems with this attorney from the beginning. He is incapable of hearing anything that is said to him, and there is no such thing as a phone conversation that lasts less than 45 minutes. 30 seconds of information that I asked him to e-mail, equals a 45 minutes phone call where he says the same thing at least five times, and then tells me about every case he’s ever had.

I never would have started with this guy, but it was ‘given’ to him by the attorney I first saw. All along I’ve been wondering whether he was stupid, or if he was padding the bill. It turns out the answer is: Both. I received no statements of his charges, then when I recently did get them, they are back dated to look like he was providing them all along, and the total is for $17K +.

I’m not happy, but I probably would have looked at it as better that he should steal it than the thieving sister get to keep it. Except that, now he has completely blown the case by failing to show up in court when he was supposed to. He blames this on the Judge, but I think that a minimum standard for an attorney is to know when he’s supposed to be there, and if it’s open to interpretation (which obviously it is if the Judge thought he was supposed to be there), he had an obligation to figure that out. Now it is bumped back four months on the court calendar. Prior to that, we were bumped back two months because he didn’t serve the other parties properly.

The longer this is dragged out, the less likely it is there will be any money to collect. I’ve already paid this clown over $6,500 that I did not have. I can not afford any more of his long-winded, expensive, nothing-to-say phone calls. He has done nothing but waste my time, and blown what should have been a very simple case.

He has taken all the money I could possibly spend on this matter and only made it worse. I do not have $12,000 to pay him to hope he actually bothers to show up in four months. (I’m sure by then he would have added another $10,000 to the bill anyway.)

I'm checking into legal-aid, but they only seem to handle family and criminal law, not probate law. I need to get rid of this idiot lawyer (while stopping him from ruining me over his bogus bill), and figure out what I can do about the court case while having no money left for a competent attorney.

Now I have two problems: 1.) The original matter; and 2.) the incompetent attorney

So, where do I go from here?

P.S. This attorney now calls to harangue me for money for 45 minutes and then adds that time to his bill. Is that even legal? (When I protested that, he did agree to take that off the bill.)
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Richard - Bizlaw replied 6 years ago.

I am sorry to hear about your problems. I suggest you start by terminating his services. That will stop the bleeding. I also suggest you tell him you are not paying the balance if the bill and seek to negotiate something reasonable. You have every right to file a complaint with the Bar Association as missing court dates is rarely justified and you should not have to pay for it. Then speak to another probate attorney to go over the case and get a fixed price for what remains to be done. The cost of the services needs to be commensurate with the amount at play.

This communication is not intended as legal advice. A local attorney should always be consulted for legal advice. No client/attorney relationship is intended or created by this communication.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.

I have no money left to go to another probate attorney, so I needed to know if and how I can finish this without an attorney, and possibly where I could get information on how to do that. Telling me to see another attorney when I have no money left to pay for it is not very helpful.


In my question, I'd already stated that I needed to get rid of the idiot lawyer, so telling me to get rid of him didn't add anything I didn't already know.


Please, give me something so I can push the "Accept Answer" button.


Was it legal for him to bill me $285 an hour to call to dun me for money?


Is a complaint to the Bar Association going to accomplish anything? Is it even any kind of a threat? Complaining to an association of lawyers about an incompetent lawyer doesn't sound likely to fall on sympathetic ears. I imagine a threat to complain to the Bar Association won't be taken very seriously either, but I was already going to start there.


Is there a process available to me where I can complete this myself? I can guarantee you that I am way smarter than that attorney was. (Not that that's saying much.) How / where can I get information about finishing the trust matter myself?


Expert:  Richard - Bizlaw replied 6 years ago.

I do not know enough about where you are in the process on what takes to finish the case but you can represent your self. You may have to go to law library to familiarize yourself with the court rules to follow procedures. You should have memoranda discussing the legal issues in the case you can use.

As for the complaint. It should be used as a threat to negotiate down or eliminate the balance due on the fees. From what you describe you have a complaint about the charges and you can get relief by challenging the fees before the Bar Association under their fee dispute process.

This communication is not intended as legal advice. A local attorney should always be consulted for legal advice. No client/attorney relationship is intended or created by this communication.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.


OK, I realize you have been trying to answer the questions that can not be answered in a simple sentence and that's really all that you can really give me.


Let's try questions with simple answers:


1.) Is it legal for for an attorney to call to dun me for money, and then bill me $285 an hour for the time he spent doing it?


Yes or No? (If this IS legal, it certainly should not be.)

He has already been paid over $6,500 and accomplished nothing, because he keeps screwing up. 90% of his bill is because he likes to listen to himself talk.


2.) What form(s) do I need to file with the court to subsitute myself in as attorney?


3.) How soon before the next court date do I need to do this?


Everything has been done. All this attorney needed to do was make a phone appearance on the scheduled date and time to tell the Judge that all parties had agreed to "Stipulate to the Pleadings." Instead he was a 'no show,' and the court date is set back four months.

Or at least that is what the 'no show' attorney is telling me, in his version, it's the Judge that screwed up and his not making an appearance presents no problem at all. (Other than then four month delay - and remember, the four month delay came after a two month delay because the attorney did not properly notify the other side that we had made a response.)


Expert:  Richard - Bizlaw replied 6 years ago.

Here are the responses to your questions.


1. charging for calls for unpaid bills in my view is not proper but there is no law against it. You can probably successfully challenge it in a fee dispute.


2. There is no form to file - your attorney just withdraws or is terminated as your representative and you notify the court and the other side you are proceeding pro se.


3. If you are going to handle the next court date yourself, you need to have your attorney withdraw as soon as possible.


If this answer is responsive to your question, please accept it. That is how we are compensated. It would also be appreciated if you provided feed back on your view of the answer. Finally, if the answer was especially helpful you can provide a bonus. If I can be of further assistance or you have other questions in the future you can ask for me and reach me at this site.

This communication is not intended as legal advice. A local attorney should always be consulted for legal advice. No client/attorney relationship is intended or created by this communication.

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