Get your file documents regularly from your lawyer

In the past two weeks I’ve run into two incidents involving legal file documents.

First incident? Me. After I managed to embarrass Dinkes & Schwitzer into sending my file — you might remember that throughout my entire personal injury case, which began on January 25, 2007 and ended … well, that’s the problem, isn’t it? I haven’t gotten my settlement check yet so in reality it hasn’t ended — Dinkes & Schwitzer hadn’t sent me any of my documents, until I demanded two of them.

When I did get my file, I read through every document. And logged it into my time line.

To give you an idea of how little I had in the way of my legal file, the time line, which I’d pulled together from documents and dates I’d found in the Supreme Court data base and my own e-mails, was 9 pages. After I logged in all the documents sent in my file, the time line was 29 pages.

Yet it still was not my complete file. By reading through the time line, I saw holes, gaps, missing documents, factual mistakes. Had I received every document when it was drawn up, I could have corrected the mistakes. I could have actively participated in my own case. If I’d had this file before I sent my grievance to the Disciplinary Committee I would have had a lot more to complain about.

I do realize that for a lot of you pursuing a lawsuit may be necessary but is a pain in the ass. You don’t want anything to do with it. You retain a lawyer and expect the lawyer to take care of everything and call you only when he needs a signature.

Sorry. I can’t encourage this passive aggression. It can, with a sort of non-poetic justice, passively aggressively bite you back.

Here’s how. I recently met a woman who has several lawsuits going on. She’s already changed lawyers in one of them, but the original lawyer won’t send her file to her new lawyer until she pays his (in my estimation, outrageous) bill.

I think this is a pretty standard procedure among lawyers. Why should they turn over files if they haven’t been paid for the work the file represented? But in this woman’s case, the lawyer simply hadn’t billed her for two years. He was supposed to bill her monthly. This bill she got, this two-year thing, was virtually unreadable. How could she verify that in September 2010, say, she e-mailed this guy several times and he claimed to have taken a couple of hours (and charged her for those couple of hours) in responding?

She had asked him to do a number of things and get a number of important documents. He had ignored her requests. So her reasons for switching lawyers were solid. But still, she doesn’t have her file.

It’s made me realize one big reason it’s so important for us plaintiffs to ensure that our lawyers send us every document they generate or receive for our cases. Because, if we wind up deciding to switch lawyers, the lawyer we’re firing can’t hold our file hostage to fee demands.

And now I’m wondering: do mediocre or bad lawyers deliberately not send documents to their clients, just in case?

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