“Ask Your Attorney” Column

About Firing Your Attorney!

Dear Counselor: My widowed sister just can’t get work with the attorney her husband had used for many years. She believes he has charged her too much, and doesn’t believe his bill is fair. But she doesn’t know what to do, and she is afraid he won’t return her legal documents and papers if she goes to someone else. What should I tell her to do.

Dear Client: The relationship between an attorney and client is one built on trust and confidence. Without that, it is difficult, if not impossible, to work with that person. Attorneys know that, and in life, personalities sometimes simply clash. Your sister should advise the attorney in writing that his services are no longer needed, and that he should return her file to her. Attorneys are prohibited from withholding a client’s file when it has been requested, and a failure to return it is a common ground for the lawyer to be disciplined. Hence it is unlikely the lawyer would try to hold the file hostage to payment of his bill. Your sister’s file belongs to her, and is entitled to it — even if she still owes the lawyer money. As far as the unpaid fee, if your sister and the lawyer can not agree upon what is fair, the State Bar of Wisconsin has a fee arbitration program which has been set up for exactly this type of dispute. Your sister needs only go on-line to the website maintained by the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the forms to request fee arbitration are right there. A final piece of advice, however, is that your sister may first want to simply suggest to the lawyer what she thinks is fair, and offer to pay that. Most lawyers really want to please their clients, and not end up in a dispute. So, they are often willing to discount the fee to avoid further problems.

John L. Maier, Jr.