Q. What are my rights as a client?
A. The Bar’s A Consumer Guide to Clients’ Rights provides 10 basic rights that clients are entitled to by law or by custom when retaining a lawyer, and the Supreme Court approved “Statement of Clients’ Rights” that must be read and signed by the client and attorney when entering into a contingency fee agreement. Many of the suggestions in the statement are helpful to anyone thinking of hiring a lawyer in any situation.
Problems with Your Attorney
Q. How do I fire my lawyer?
A. ACAP suggests you call and make an appointment with your lawyer and try to work things out. If that doesn’t work, write a letter describing your reasons for termination and send it certified mail, return receipt requested. Also, request a copy of your file, an itemized bill, and return of any property or unearned fee. Your lawyer is entitled to be paid any fees that are earned and unpaid and any costs that have been advanced, and may be entitled to assert a lien on the file until paid.
Q. Can my lawyer withdraw from the case?
A. Yes, most of the time. But if your case is already in court, the lawyer will be required to get permission from the judge to withdraw.
Q. How can I find out the status of my case if my lawyer does not call me?
A. ACAP can write or call your lawyer and ask that your lawyer provide you an update on the status of the case.
Q. How can I get my file?
A. The file is personal property of the lawyer. However, you are entitled to a copy of your file. Your lawyer may charge reasonable copying cost to reproduce it. ACAP can contact your lawyer to help you get a copy of your file. Any original materials you provided to your lawyer are your property and should be returned upon request without cost unless your lawyer is asserting a lien for fees.
Q. What can I do if my lawyer’s trust account check bounced?
A. A lawyer’s trust account check should never bounce. ACAP will send you a complaint form and urge you to get legal advice about how to recover the funds. If you have suffered a financial loss due to your lawyer’s theft of funds, you should contact The Florida Bar Clients’ Security Fund at 800-342-8060 ext. 5812 and request information on how to make a claim. The Florida Bar may also initiate an audit of the lawyer’s trust account, whether or not you file a complaint or a claim.
Q. What should I do when my lawyer did not pay my medical bills in my personal injury case?
A. When you settled your case, you should have received a closing statement, which lists all of the financial details of your entire case. You should first review the closing statement and determine whether that creditor was listed to be paid. Your lawyer is not under any legal obligation to pay expenses unless it was agreed that your lawyer would withhold monies from the settlement to honor the debt. If there was no such agreement, then you are solely responsible for honoring the debt out of settlement money received. If there was a misunderstanding about who was to pay what, ACAP can try to resolve the misunderstanding by contacting your lawyer.
Q. What can I do if I don’t agree with my lawyer’s bill?
A. ACAP urges you to look at your fee agreement, if you have one, determine how much time your lawyer has worked on the case, and look at the file to see what work was done. If it appears you are being charged for unnecessary work or work that wasn’t done, write or meet with the lawyer to work out the fee dispute. If that doesn’t work, ACAP may invite you and your lawyer to agree to mediate or arbitrate your dispute through The Florida Bar’s Grievance Mediation and Fee Arbitration Program, which is free (Review the Consumer Guide to the Legal Fee Arbitration Program pamphlet). The Florida Bar does not have authority to intervene in fee disputes unless the fee is illegal, prohibited or clearly excessive.
Q. Why is it taking my lawyer so long to disburse my settlement?
A. There may be a plausible reason why you have not received your settlement funds such as dispute of legal fees, liens, etc., that may have caused the delay. ACAP can contact the lawyer for resolution.
Q. How can I sue my lawyer for malpractice?
A. You should get legal advice about a malpractice claim. The local bar association can give you names of lawyers who handle such cases. If there is not a local bar association for lawyer referral service, contact The Florida Bar’s lawyer referral service. The disciplinary department of The Florida Bar does not recover money damages for you. Also, note that the filing of a Bar complaint will not suspend or change any time limits that may apply to your claim.
Q. What can I do if my court-appointed lawyer provided ineffective assistance?
A. The Florida Bar does not have jurisdiction over claims of ineffective assistance that do not amount to incompetence. The filing of a Bar complaint will not affect your conviction.
Q. Can my lawyer settle my case without telling me?
A. A lawyer may not settle a case without the consent of the client. If you have signed a release or the check, and then change your mind about the settlement, the settlement may be enforced.
Q. What can I do if my lawyer is rude to me?
A. Such behavior is unprofessional but it does not violate the rules that govern lawyer discipline in Florida. You should tell your lawyer how you feel and you can always get another lawyer.
Q. What if my lawyer appears to have a drug or alcohol problem?
A. You may contact Florida Lawyer Assistance at 954-566-9040, which may arrange an intervention where it appears the lawyer is impaired by alcoholism or drug abuse.
Problems with other Attorneys
Q. What can I do if I heard a lawyer is engaged in illegal activity?
A. If you have personal knowledge of such activity, then report it to the appropriate authorities.
Q. What can I do when a collection attorney is harassing me to pay up?
A. Opposing counsel are supposed to be zealous advocates for their clients. You should consider seeking legal advice about how to respond to the demand for payment, particularly if you have a dispute about the amount owed. Find out about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and what you can do to make bill collectors stop bothering you. You can report any violations of that law to the Federal Trade Commission. A contact number for FTC is toll free 877-FTC-HELP.
Q. What can I do about my spouse’s lawyer saying terrible things about me in divorce court?
A. You should raise with issue with your lawyer or the judge (if you don’t have a lawyer) in that court.
Q. What can I do if my ex-spouse, who is a lawyer, is delinquent in paying child support?
A. Rule 4-8.4(h) of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar prohibits a lawyer from willfully refusing to timely pay a child support obligation. The court will need to make a finding of willful refusal to pay. This rule should not be used as the primary means for collecting child support, but should be used only after all other available remedies for the collection have been exhausted.
Q. Can ACAP assign a lawyer to handle my case?
A. ACAP cannot refer callers to a lawyer but we suggest you call your local bar association or The Florida Bar’s lawyer referral service.
Q. How do I get a court-appointed lawyer?
A. ACAP cannot assist. The judge to whom the case has been assigned is responsible for appointment of counsel, and the defendant must ask the court for an attorney to be appointed.
Complaints Against Elected Officials
Q. How can I file a complaint against an elected official, such as the elected state attorney, public defender or sheriff?
A. The State Commission on Ethics deals with complaints about misconduct by some elected officials. The Florida Bar does not have jurisdiction to discipline lawyers who occupy constitutionally created positions including judges. The Judicial Qualifications Commission investigates allegations of misconduct by judges. The conduct of elected state attorneys and public defenders is overseen by the Governor of Florida.