An attorney (HAWAII) offered to take my case on contingency with a $2500 retainer and he would get 40% of the settlement. As a former paralegal, my files are immaculate and already put together for an attorney. I met him for lunch to discuss the case and was impressed as he seemed to get it and seemed excited at how good my case was so I signed the attorney client agreement. I provided him with the nice file complete with indexing, because I know he is a one man operation and doesn't have full time staff (if at all). I had record of everything and already had all the research, filed complaints with the appropriate consumer and governing boards, already made first contact and attempted to settle with mediation through those governing boards. I offered to help him administratively to keep the costs down and move the case along. He asked me to enter everything into case soft. We talked briefly about what his plan was which was to review the file and get a demand letter out since there was a deadline per the contract I signed with the person I was suing that said I had to sue within a certain period of time. He told me he would send me a copy of the attorney client contract and we would meet in a couple of weeks for a more proper meeting since we really didn't go through too much detail. I gave him $500 which he said was for the demand letter and he said I could pay him the rest in payments if we went to court. After that first meeting I got one email from him that indicated he sent out letters to all the parties involved stating that he was now representing me and all future contact should be made through him. At this point it all was going well. I even sent him a demand letter that my former boss did! He just had to review my files and tighten the letter up. Even the figures were already done in a spreadsheet. Any lawyer should have been happy to have such an easy case to work. BUT After that first email it all went downhill.
I contacted him 2 weeks later to tell him I completed entering the case into casesoft. He said he had an emergency and had to go out of town. He contacted me nearly a month later saying we needed to get an appraiser in to appraise the damage on my items, something that wasn't part of the plan. (I already had a valued amount from the insurance companies but he wanted a private appraisal something I didn't think was necessary for the letter) He found someone who wanted $3000 to do the appraisal even though she clearly had no experience in the type of items I had, and I had take 3 things to other people who specialized in those items. I kept telling him I was willing to accept the insurance appraisal amount for the purposes of the letter, which is actually far undervalued but works in our benefit with the courts. I also asked where my copy of the agreement was and when we could meet. He never responded. Then one morning at 8 am on a Saturday he showed up at my door to see the stuff and how I had organized it for the appraiser and I told him that I didn't have the money to pay her and to go off of the insurance appraisals. My husband thought that was totally inappropriate just showing up. So after that, I didn't hear from him again for weeks. He then contacts me to ask where I was with the casesoft stuff and wanted to know where I was with the appraisal!! I was starting to get concerned that he had a stroke or something.
I should also mention that at this time I was also contacted my 2 of the companies involved and they told me they never got any letters. When I asked the lawyer about it he said he was pretty sure he sent them letters, he would have to check. I called the other parties involved and it was the same story that they hadn't gotten any letters. Now I was mad. The next couple of months went by he never responded about the letters just more unanswered emails, most importantly one that I needed information on for my insurance company which he actually totally dropped the ball on and I ended up losing my claim for that portion of the settlement.
I started requesting copies of correspondence and mentioned I had not seen any billing statements as to where we were with the money I had already gave him because I was concerned that we were making no progress and a lot of time was being wasted and I had no idea what was going on. At one point I got a call from him out of the blue stating that we needed to move things along as if I was somehow the reason nothing was being done. He made some kind of comment about how "bad faith claims" can go on for years. I was like "when did we decide to sue my insurance company for bad faith??" lol We were suing a vendor for a contract issue and willfull misconduct!! Now I was really freaking out.
I found out through word of mouth that a week after I contracted him his mother died. So at this point it totally made sense to me because he was acting like someone who was either overwhelmed or under a lot of pressure. We were now 4 weeks away from the deadline and no letter had gone out. When I asked him if he read the demand letter I sent him, he said WHAT LETTER? When I sent it to him again, he said he didn't agree that we had basis for willfull misconduct and treble damages! I was like wait that was what our whole case was about and what he sold me in our first meeting. When he explained why he felt that way, I realized that he really had not even read through my file and was not getting the case at all.
At this point I had to go find another lawyer and we sent him an email terminating our agreement and asked him to return the files and retainer. I had already starting meeting with the new attorney. After 11 days I get an email from my old attorney wanting to know where I was at with the appraisal again! lol I was like HELLO I fired you 11 days ago. A few days later he dropped of my file no retainer and no indication of billing.
I have sent him several requests, one certified to please either return my retainer or provide documentation that shows why he feels he is entitled to it. I personally don't think he should keep a penny. I would have no problem compensating him for his time if he had done some things to help the case that we could use. NOTHING he did can be used in fact, he actually has made my situation worse now as we missed the second deadline and now have to prove that it was the attorneys fault so I still have a case, something that my new attorney has to deal with that he shouldn't have had to do.
SO my questions is this. Can attorney keep your retainer for simply spending time on your case if what he did was either wrong or produced no results and could have cost you your case?? What protects a client from an attorney who can stall on a case just to collect money without really having to do anything? I did all the work for this guy, all he did was drive around for unannounced meetings and make a bunch of calls and emails about things that were wrong or pointless. My new attorney says he has to show that he earned it. At my former employers clients were kept apprised of all work done on the case, and we sent out monthly billing statements that had details of what they were being charged for. This guy never did that.
Thanks and sorry so long, just wanted to give the full story!What is the name of your state (only U.S. law)?