Problems With Your Lawyer

If you have problems with your lawyer or become unhappy with their services, the first thing you should try to do is talk with your lawyer to try to work it out. There may be some misunderstandings that can be cleared up easily with direct communication. You may want to write your concerns down and request a written response, which may be easier for both of you. If you are still unhappy or uncomfortable, you have a right to terminate the lawyer-client relationship and find a new lawyer.

If you decide to change counsel, it is best to have the next lawyer lined up and ready to take over your case. If your original lawyer appeared on your behalf in court and is on record as your lawyer, you can change lawyers by filing a Consent to Change Counsel signed by the retiring counsel and you as the party. Certain courts require that the Consent to Change Counsel be ordered by the court. If you have not lined up new counsel, the process may be more complicated and you may need to proceed without counsel. Once you retain a new lawyer, the counsel will be required to file a notice of appearance with the court to act as your counsel. However, if a corporation is a party to the lawsuit, the corporation must have a new lawyer ready to take over the case as lawyer of record, because a corporation is not allowed to represent itself.

Your lawyer also has the right to decide not to represent you anymore. Your lawyer can withdraw from your case if you are given adequate notice and an opportunity to find a new lawyer. In general, your lawyer will first ask you to agree to end the relationship, but if you do not agree, the court can allow your lawyer to withdraw from your case anyway. Some reasons a lawyer might withdraw from your case are: if you and the lawyer cannot agree on how to proceed with the case or if you can no longer pay the lawyer’s fees. If there is a disagreement or your lawyer wants to withdraw without your permission, an order from the court will be required.

Keep in mind that when the lawyer-client relationship ends, you have a right to the prompt return of all your papers and property in your lawyer’s possession. You have a right to a refund of any unearned portions of the retainer deposit or unused money you gave the lawyer to cover expenses and costs. You should ask your lawyer for these items, a breakdown of all of the expenses and costs, and for a refund of any unused money right away and follow up until you receive them. If you have not fully paid your attorney, the attorney may have the right to retain your file and money belonging to you under certain circumstances.

If you have a complaint against a lawyer, you may contact the Lawyer Disciplinary or Grievance Committee that covers the area where the lawyer is practicing law. For lawyers located in Manhattan or the Bronx, you need to contact the First Judicial Department – Departmental Disciplinary Committee. For Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island, contact the Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Judicial Districts.

If you have a disagreement with your lawyer about the fees you already paid  or fees your lawyer claims you owe, your lawyer must participate in a state-sponsored arbitration program, New York State has a Fee Dispute Resolution Program (FDRP), that handles lawyer-client disputes over legal fees that are more than $1,000 and less than $50,000. The FDRP does not cover fees in a criminal or a personal injury case. If you have a  fee dispute about a case other than a criminal or personal injury case, you should file a client request for arbitration with the program in the area where your lawyer practices law.  You can find a list of programs here.  You and your counsel may agree in your engagement letter as to how fee disputes are handled.

If you believe your lawyer has wrongfully taken your money or property, you can apply for reimbursement from the Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection, here. This Fund was established to help clients who have lost money or property as a result of a lawyer’s dishonest conduct in the practice of law.

Legal Editor: Kerry A. Brennan, March 2016

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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