Filing a grievance against a lawyer: is yours valid? 2

‘What the use of it, Wickerby? I hate seeing a client – What comes of it?’
‘Of course he wants to tell his own story.’
But I don’t want to hear his own story. What good will his own story do me? He’ll tell me  one of two things. He’ll swear he didn’t murder the man — ‘
‘That’s what he’ll say.’
‘Which can have no effect upon me one way or the other; or else he’ll say that he did, – which would cripple me altogether.’ – Anthony Trollope, Phineas Redux

I’m sure you read an earlier post, What can you do if your lawyer ignores you? A lot. Why am I sure? Because I told you to. Oh, and because you really want to know if there’s anything you can do about your possibly negligent lawyer.

So once again, read through the Statement of Client’s Responsibilities. Of the ten paragraphs (I have to ask, given that the Client’s Rights and Client’s Responsibilities statements are both decalogues, how influential was the Ten Commandments when the Court System developed these statements?), look carefully at:

2.  Although you may have a valid grievance against your lawyer, it’d be best if you haven’t lied to him. Just as in life, he who in a lawsuit lies once has imperiled the rest of his testimony in the ears of the jury or the judge.

3 and 4.  And I hope you’ve paid your lawyer in accordance with your agreement. This is one situation in which you don’t want to have withheld your fees as a way of protesting your lawyer’s behavior, or just because you’re a deadbeat. It’s an awkward position to be in, if you intend to file a complaint against the guy you owe money to.

6.  Here’s another weak statement. What does the Unified Court System consider as “reasonable time frame?” But I must say, having dealt with demanding, angry plaintiffs, do consider how you’ve behaved to your lawyer in this regard. Have you been obsessive? Have you called repeatedly, e-mailed repeatedly and crazily? All in all, I think the Court System should amend this right, to specify what a “reasonable time frame” is.

One law firm I know engaged an ethicist to review and comment on their procedures vis-a-vis clients. I think his determination was that 48 hours was a “reasonable time” for the lawyer to respond to the client. Or it may have been 24 hours, but I think that’s remarkably fast. Forty-eight hours (not including weekends) sounds OK to me, unless there’s a real emergency. (Oh, hell, and now I guess you want me to come up with a definition of “emergency.” No.)

But give your behavior a once-over on this item.

7. If you’ve ducked your lawyer, haven’t responded in that “reasonable time frame,” haven’t cooperated with him, you’ve dimmed your chances of any success in complaining about him. In fact, I’m now complaining about you.

8. This is tricky. Recently, a Sidebar reader found me by searching on “my lawyer didn’t fight for me.” I have no way of interpreting this. The client might have insisted on some procedure or some amount of money that was not, in the lawyer’s opinion, a reasonable or even legal demand. On the other hand, the lawyer may have not argued effectively on the client’s behalf.

I knew of one such situation. A lawyer made a fast deal — too fast, in my opinion — for a settlement, told the client it was a terrific deal, that he couldn’t hope for more, and pretty much bullied the client into accepting it immediately. That made me really angry; I thought the amount was too low and I was also appalled that the lawyer did not even bother to negotiate.

You’ll have to do some further self-psychoanalysis here to review whether you’ve been unreasonable. One thing you can review is whether your lawyer talked to you openly and for whatever length of time you needed about why he felt you asked him to “advocate or propose positions which are unprofessional or contrary to law or the Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.” You should request and/or expect a thorough explanation from your lawyer.

10. You’re not going to get much of a positive response to a complaint if you’re claiming that you have a case, while the lawyer says you don’t. You know your innards and the minutiae of the situation which has caused you anger and hurt. But the lawyer knows the law and sometimes anger and hurt don’t merit a lawsuit, not in legal terms.

Next: Do you have a valid grievance against your lawyer? Part 3.

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