Rabelais had satirized the mountain of documents that piled up around every case: his character Judge Bridlegoose spent hours reading and pondering before making his final decisions by tossing dice, a method he found as reliable as any other. Many authors also attacked the widespread corruption among lawyers. In general, justice was recognized as being so unjust that, as Montaigne complained, ordinary people avoided it rather than seeking it out. – Sarah Bakewell, How to Live – Or – A Life of Montaigne
I’ve given you a nine part personal narrative under the title, “What can you do when your lawyer ignores you?” In it, I’ve related what I’ve been doing as I face inadequate communication from my personal injury lawyers: I’ve written e-mails, letters and posts here on Sidebar. (The posts seem to have been the most effective prod, i.e, they irritated my lawyers who did communicate with me — they communicated their irritation that I’d been critical of them on “the internet.”)
In short, I have complained.
I’ve been holding something back, though. There is action we can take when our lawyers do not respond, or behave in ways we find contemptuous of us, or unsatisfying. Built into the supervisory aspect of the state court structure is a remedial forum for people who are having trouble with their lawyers.
What you can do when your lawyer behaves badly.
First, get informed:
- Look to the right of this post and roll down to the Sites of Interest section. You’ll see a link to NYS Unified Court System. Click on it.
- Now you’re on the Court System home page. To the right, there is a columnar list of sub-sites. One of them is labeled Attorneys. Click on this link.
- Now, go to the left side of the page and roll your cursor over the Client/Attorney Relationship link. You’ll see a pop-up list of further links. Click on the Client’s Rights link.
- You now see a 10-paragraph list called Statement of Client’s Rights. [In case you didn’t know for sure that you had rights, well, you do.] Read it.
You may find this statement reassuring. To me, it’s a little weak, a little spare, even a little grudging. But I won’t critique it here, now. In any case, it gives you an idea of your status as a client and what you should expect from your lawyer.
- So let’s go back to the left column, the Client/Attorney Relationship link. Roll your cursor over it. Click on Statement of Client’s Responsibilities.
- Read it carefully. Apply honest self-analysis, especially regarding your behavior to your lawyer (Item 1) and your expectations of him or her (Item 6).
- Roll your cursor over that Client/Attorney Relationship item again and click on Letters of Engagement Rules. Did your lawyer provide you with an adequate letter of engagement or a retainer agreement?
- Now go back to the Client/Attorney Relationship link, roll your cursor again and click on Attorney Rules of Professional Conduct (Part 1200). It’s only 43 pages and isn’t really scary — unless you, like me, think it’s remarkably thin in the Client/Lawyer Relationship categories.
Of course, all this information pertains to the New York State court system. But your state must have something similar, using similar terminology. Search on “name of your state” + “court system.” You’ll find it.
Next: Do you have a valid grievance against your lawyer?