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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Posts
    6

    Default When Can You Refuse to Pay Your Lawyer's Fees

    My question involves a consumer law issue in the State of: California

    This is a concern I have about the services provided to me by my lawyer...

    I retained an estate lawyer from a recomendation last year in May 2011 to dispute the way another family member's will was being administered by one of the co-trustees. I am also one of the co-trustees. I had plenty of documentation to back up my position, and my lawyer said I had a great case to proceed with suit. All parties involved agreed to outside mediation to resolve the issues. In July 2011, my lawyer said he would handle setting up the mediation before the case was heard in court by October last year. He never set anything up despite my follow-up phone calls and written requests. In October, because nothing had yet been decided, the judge continued the case to March of 2012.

    For several months prior to the March court date, I again called my lawyer several times to be sure the mediation was scheduled. He never returned my calls until a week before the court date in March and by then it was too late for mediation to be held. Again, the judge frustratingly continued the case until May 2012 and gave a hand written order on the stipulation that mediation must be held on or before May 7, 2012. Needless to say, my lawyer dropped the ball once again and mediation was never scheduled or carried out. The case is probably going to be continued to July or August 2012 at this point, and my lawyer has still to inform me as to the new date. In a subsequent phone call to him, he stated he wanted to work out an agreement just between lawyers (between him and the other party's lawyer) for resolution. I firmly said, no, I wanted mediation so I could personally confront the other co-trustee as originally planned back in July last year.

    I have been calling and leaving messages for my attorney for the past two weeks and today 5/25/12, finally got hold of him and he said that the mediation date is set, but the time and place is not confirmed, because he hasn't had time to call the mediator back. Meanwhile he says he needs a few thousand more dollars to cover the time he has spent on the case since last October. I can't imagine what he has done in that time to merit several thousand more dollars, but I requested his itemized billing so that I may scrutinize it.

    Overall, a full year has gone by since we began and nothing has been done, apparently because of his incompetency. At this point, I don't really want to start over with a new lawyer either. I have carefully documented all of our conversations with him and have copies of all the court papers that were filed, etc. Do I have legal recourse NOT to pay him his newly requested fees (I have already invested over $12,000 so far with him!) if I feel he has not been holding up his part of our contract? He is obviously unorganized, forgetful, and inefficient. He initially assured me this whole case wouldn't take any longer than 3 months, but it has gone on this long all due to his fault and no one else. What can I do to light the fire under him and get him on track? Also, is it wise at this time to tell him I'm not paying for his errors and that I expect more professional and expedient behavior in handling my case? Isn't a contract between two parties supposed to protect both parties (not just him, but me too)? In other words, he has to be held accountable for holding up his part of the contract as well, correct?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    CT & IL
    Posts
    5,273

    Default Re: When Can You Refuse to Pay Your Lawyer's Fees

    Of course you are free to withhold monies -- you have free will. Of course, the lawyer can sue you for it too. He may not be unorganized, the other party may be. But if you are not happy you are always free to get a new lawyer or bring on a 2nd lawyer to the case (no law requiring just 1 lawyer). So you can keep crappy lawyer on and have 2nd lawyer do all work.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Behind a Desk
    Posts
    98,846

    Default Re: When Can You Refuse to Pay Your Lawyer's Fees

    Your attorney fees are due pursuant to your contract with the lawyer. If you have accrued legal fees under that contract and refuse to pay, your lawyer can sue you for the money.

    You need to decide if you're going to change firms or if you're going to continue to employ your present counsel. If the latter, you can expect that he will continue to bill you and expect you to pay the bill, and that you'll risk undermining your future argument that you shouldn't have to pay for the fees you've accrued to date.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Posts
    6

    Default Re: When Can You Refuse to Pay Your Lawyer's Fees

    This is so frustrating. So is there anything I can or should say now to let him know my dissatisfaction so as to make him more prudent or accountable in the future? I have reminded him a couple of times already about keeping my costs down, but it seems like it goes in one ear and out the other. His contract does state:

    "Attorney will endeavor to perform services at a reasonable cost consistent with client's objectives." And, "Attorney undertakes to the best of his ability to avoid unnecessary expense to client."

    Each time his appearances in court, travel time, telephone conferences, paperwork, etc. for his "continuances" all cost me money unnecessarily, all because of his failure to plan and follow through timely. All parties were ready and able to do the mediation last year (when the judge first ordered it done by October, ...then March, then May), but he keeps putting it off unreasonably. He did not actually contact a mediator until May 9th of this year---two days after mediation was supposed to have taken place! These actions are not only inconsistant with my objectives, but also not cost effective to me, either. I just don't think it is right for an attorney or anyone who provides a professional, and especially high-cost service to perform so irresponsibly and inefficiently with no accountability to the terms of his own contract.

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