What are the most common complaints clients have about attorneys?
Frequent Client Complaints
- Rude or intimidating behavior
- Name-calling and threats
- Use of profanity
- Hanging up on a client
- Pressuring client
- Withdrawing or threatening to withdraw at critical time
- All communications through paralegal or other staff
- Not notifying client when attorney leaves law firm
- Sexual advances
- Not licensed in Texas, Attorney disappeared
- Lying to client
- Substance abuse
- Abusive litigation tactics
- Missing appointments or cancelling appointments with clients
- Grammatical and spelling errors in documents
Fees, Statements & Settlements:
- Not providing an itemized statement
- Statement is difficult to read
- Errors or over-charges in bills
- Quoting one fee but billing at a higher rate
- Not accounting for retainer or payments on account
- Failing to deliver orders to third parties for distribution of funds
- Making settlement offers or settling case without consulting client or obtaining consent
- Disclosing client confidences to opponent
- Talking about client’s case with third parties
Neglect & Competence:
- Not completing case by filing final orders, decrees, etc.
- Not appearing in court or being late to hearings
- Not prepared at hearings
- Missing filing deadlines
- Failing to put on evidence at hearings
- Failing to supervise work of subordinates
- Failing to research legal issues
- Failing to include causes of action in petition
- Failing to file suit within statute of limitations
- Filing wrong orders
- Not having file at meetings with client
- Not providing copies of documents on an on-going basis
- Not returning phone calls
- Failing to keep client informed of hearings and case deadlines
- Failing to explain litigation, legal strategies and issues, etc.
- Failing to schedule depositions or hearing in a timely manner
- Failing to correct substantive errors in orders, decrees, or pleadings
Safeguarding Client Property:
- Mismanagement of trust account funds
- Mismanagement of estate funds
- Not returning original documents or files to client
- Losing file or documents
- Not returning unused retainer
- Not paying expert witnesses or paying medical providers out of funds withheld from settlements
- Cashing settlement check and keeping client’s money
Is my attorney allowed to talk about my case with others?
Generally, no. Attorneys are bound by the attorney-client privilege, which means that anything you tell your attorney in the course of your case must be kept confidential by that attorney and shared only with other attorneys in the firm and their staff. In addition, attorneys are generally bound to keep confidential even non-privileged information learned during the course of your representation about you or your case. There are some exceptions, however, which are addressed below.
In a deposition, a lawyer insists upon asking witnesses who their elementary school teachers were, and similar irrelevant questions, for the purpose of delaying the proceedings and running up everyone’s fees, including his own. What is the relevant standard by which to judge his actions for grievance purposes?
The relevant standard is that it is an offense to take a position that unreasonably increases the costs or other burdens of the case or that unreasonably delays resolution of the matter. See DR 3.02.
Is a mediator considered an “adjudicatory official,” and thus must lawyers, in their dealings with mediators, abide by all ethical rules dealing with judges and other adjudicatory officials, as for example with respect to ex parte communications?
Yes. The Disciplinary Rules define an adjudicatory official as a “person who serves on a tribunal.” Tribunal is defined as “any…body or official, or other person” including “arbitrators, mediators, hearing officers, and comparable persons empowered to resolve or to recommend a resolution of a particular matter.”
My lawyer did a terrible job on my case and, consequently, we got a terrible result. What kind of recourse do I have?
First, you should discuss your issues or concerns with your lawyer directly. If you do not feel that they have been adequately addressed, you can contact the Client Attorney Assistance Program of the State Bar of Texas, which assists clients in resolving disputes with attorneys. To contact CAAP, call 1-800-932-1900.
To file a grievance against a lawyer, or to obtain more information about how or when to file a grievance against an attorney, to www.texasbar.com. In the “For the Public” section of the home page, click on the link that reads: “Complaints against a lawyer? Get information on the process.”
Keep in mind that the fact that you obtained a disappointing result on a legal matter does not mean that the attorney did anything wrong. Legal matters often involve uncertainty that can result in vastly different outcomes from case to case.
Is negligent malpractice, like missing a discovery deadline, a “grievable” offense, i.e., sufficient grounds for a grievance?
No, not without more or without violation of a specific rule. Professional negligence, in and of itself, is not a separate offense under the Disciplinary Rules. In fact, Rule 1.01 defines “neglect” only as either “inattentiveness involving a conscious disregard for the responsibilities owed to a client or clients” or “frequently” failing “to carry out completely the obligations that the lawyer owes to a client or clients.”
What is an arbitrator, and how is that different from a mediator?
Arbitration and mediation are both forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR refers to methods of dispute resolution that are outside the more traditional means of resolving disputes through litigation in a court of law.
In arbitration, the parties agree to retain a third party – called an arbitrator – to act much as a judge would in a trial. Both sides present their case under the rules of arbitration, which may differ from proceeding to proceeding but are often similar to the rules of evidence and procedure used in courts. After hearing the evidence from both sides, the arbitrator will issue his or her decision. Arbitration is usually binding, meaning that both sides agree to abide by the arbitrator’s decision. In some complex matters, the parties may hire more than one arbitrator to hear the case.
Mediation is a process by which a third party, known as the mediator, facilitates a structured settlement discussion with the parties in an attempt to reach a mutually-agreed settlement prior to the filing of a lawsuit or before the case goes to trial. The mediator acts as a neutral party and is specially trained to provide a structured process to facilitate negotiations that the parties and their lawyers often do not or cannot do themselves.
What is the judge’s role in my case?
If you have a case in court, the judge will preside over your case until the case has been resolved. Judges will resolve disputes between the parties and rule on all questions of law. If a trial is held in your case, the judge will preside over the trial and will decide all questions of law. If you have a jury, the jury will decide the disputed facts of your case, but the judge will instruct the jury as to what the law is in your particular case. If there is no jury, the judge will also rule on your case and issue judgment. If anyone appeals the verdict in your case, an appellate court (made up of several judges) may review the case and reverse the judgment of the trial court if it finds reversible error.
Is there currently a Disciplinary Rule that expressly and specifically forbids lawyers from having intimate relationships with their clients during the course of the attorney-client relationship?
No. Several such proposals are currently under consideration, however, and there is an ABA model rule on the subject. Also, there are Texas Disciplinary Rules already in effect that generally prohibit deception or taking unfair advantage of a client. See, e.g., DR 4.01.
May a law firm bill the client more for the work of a contract lawyer than the firm pays that lawyer?
Only if the contract lawyer is “in” the firm, or if all fee-splitting and referral requirements of Rule 1.04 (f) are met. Opinion 577 (2008) of the Texas Supreme Court Professional Ethics Committee provides that “Firm lawyers,” whether partners, shareholders, associates, or otherwise named, are not covered by the fee-splitting rules contained in 1.04 (f). Hence, there is no restriction on the firm charging more for the attorney’s time than it paid him or her, except for the general rule that no fee charged by any lawyer or firm can be illegal or unconscionable in amount. However, Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, specifically Rule 1.04, the matter must be analyzed differently when a firm seeks to mark-up the fees of a “non-firm lawyer.” Under those circumstances, all requirements of Rule 1.04 (f) with respect to referral fees and other fee-splitting arrangements must be met. This includes “proportionality of fees to services performed or joint responsibility for the representation, written client consent to the terms of the fee division, and a total fee that is not unconscionable under Rule 1.04(a). In addition, Rule 7.01(d) will prohibit the law firm from incorporating the non-firm lawyer’s name, work, and time into its own bill unless the law firm does so in a way that identifies the non-firm lawyer as a lawyer who is not in the firm.” Opinion 577 only gives general guidance as to how to determine whether a contract lawyer in “inside” or “outside” of the firm. It provides that someone who is not a partner, shareholder, or associate, is nonetheless “in” the firm, if they: are reasonably considered to be “in” the law firm. Such a determination can be based on various objective factors, including but not limited to the receipt of firm communications, inclusion in firm events, work location, length and history of association with the firm, whether the firm and the lawyer identify or hold the lawyer out as being in the firm to clients and to the public, and the lawyer’s access to firm resources including computer data and applications, client files and confidential information. Examples of other firm lawyers include lawyers referred to as of counsel, senior attorneys, contract lawyers and part-time lawyers.