For The Public
The problem: "How do I find a lawyer to handle my
The options: The State Bar Lawyer Referral Information Service or the nearest local bar association can provide the caller with names of attorneys in their area. A modest fee for an initial consultation gives the caller an opportunity to determine whether that lawyer is someone they may wish to hire. To learn if the lawyer is “board certified” the caller may contact the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
The problem: “ My lawyer does not return phone calls.”
The options: CAAP asks what steps the client has already taken to resolve this issue. If leaving messages with the lawyer’s staff or voice mail has not prompted a reply, CAAP will usually suggest that the client write a letter to the attorney, send it by certified mail, and ask that the lawyer respond within a certain but reasonable time. If the lawyer does not respond, the client can provide a copy of their correspondence to CAAP and one of the staff attorneys will contact the lawyer on the client’s behalf and request that the lawyer contact to the client and respond to the client’s concerns.
The problem: “It’s been months and I want to know what is happening in my case.”
The options: CAAP would offer the same suggestions and options to this client as the client whose attorney does not return phone calls (see above). If telephone calls have not worked, the client is urged to write to the lawyer with their questions, ask for a reply within a certain but reasonable time, and send the letter by certified mailed. When the time period expires, CAAP will the contact the lawyer on the client’s behalf.
The problem: “I can’t believe this bill! It’s outrageous!”
The options: CAAP first determines whether there is a fee agreement that may provide some guidance in understanding the services and costs for which the caller is being billed. CAAP will also ask what the caller has done to address the bill with the attorney. If the caller has not already discussed the issue with the attorney, the caller is urged to look at the bill to ascertain if there are any obvious mistakes, and then make an appointment to address any questions about the bill and the services provided. CAAP will explain that the rules of professional conduct prohibit illegal or unconscionable fees, and that the grievance process is available to address those concerns. CAAP will also refer the caller to the fee dispute process sponsored by a local bar association or a community Dispute Resolution Center.
The problem: “How can I change my lawyer?”
The options: CAAP will suggest that the client make an appointment to meet with the lawyer or send the lawyer a discharge letter by certified mail. In the letter the client should also ask that his or her client file be returned by delivering the file to the client or making it available for pick-up, that the lawyer provide an itemized bill of the lawyer’s time and expenses incurred, and that the lawyer return any property or unearned fees that the client previously paid to the attorney.
The problem: “My lawyer refuses to deliver my client file [or return property or unused fees paid in advance.]”
The options: CAAP will determine the steps the client has already taken to resolve the problem and offer to contact the lawyer on the client’s behalf for the release of the file and any property and unearned fees that belong to the client. CAAP will also inform the caller about the grievance process and the applicable rules of professional conduct.
The problem: “My lawyer settled my case without telling me!” Or, “my case settled months ago and I haven’t received my settlement check.” Or, “ my case settled months ago and the doctors are still sending me bills!”
The options: CAAP will explain to the client that the rules of professional conduct require that the lawyer consult with the client before accepting any settlement on the client’s behalf. CAAP will endeavor to determine what did occur by asking about the settlement process and the nature of papers that the client may have signed. If it appears the lawyer did settle the case without the client’s consent, CAAP will send a grievance form to the client.
When cases have settled with the client’s consent, but distribution of the settlement appears to be delayed, CAAP will ask the client about the circumstances to explore whether there may be a legitimate reason for the delay, such as a dispute over fees or the existence of a medical provider or other lien that is being negotiated. CAAP will also ask about the settlement statement and any agreements between the client and the lawyer regarding payment of bills to medical providers. CAAP will offer to contact the lawyer on the client’s behalf to determine the reason for the delay. If fees are the issue, CAAP will refer the client to the fee dispute process.
The problem: “The lawyer is withdrawing from my case.”
The options: CAAP will explain that lawyers may withdraw from representation under many circumstances. Efforts will be made to determine what lead up to the lawyer determining to withdraw and the steps that the lawyer has taken to protect the client’s interests. CAAP will explain the lawyer’s obligations when withdrawing and that if a lawsuit was filed, the lawyer must file a motion to withdraw with the court. CAAP will tell the caller that it is within the judge’s discretion to grant or deny the lawyer’s motion to withdraw and that the client has the right to object to the motion to withdraw.
The problem: “My lawyer is engaged in illegal activity!”Or, “my lawyer was arrested!”
The options: When a caller has first-hand information about criminal activity, CAAP urges that caller to contact the appropriate law enforcement agency. If the lawyer has stolen or embezzled client money, CAAP will send a grievance form to that person. If the lawyer is arrested and later convicted of a serious crime in or outside the state of Texas, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel may be able to discipline the lawyer.
The problem: “Can the State Bar sue my lawyer for malpractice?”
The options: CAAP will explain to the caller that while malpractice and professional misconduct present different issues, sometimes the conduct that amounts to malpractice may also be the basis for disciplinary action against a lawyer. The State Bar can discipline a lawyer for conduct that violates the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (PDF). Legal malpractice is often defined as the legal professional's failure to exercise the knowledge, skill, and ability ordinarily possessed and exercised on behalf of a client. The State Bar of Texas cannot sue lawyers for malpractice, or recover money damages for clients. The caller is urged to consult private counsel for advice regarding legal malpractice and may be referred to the Lawyer Referral Information Services to locate a lawyer to sue another lawyer for malpractice.
The problem: “The lawyer has not paid for my services.”
The options: CAAP occasionally receives calls from court reporters, medical providers, and expert witnesses to whom the lawyer provided a signed lien or assignment or guarantee of payment from a client's settlement. Because the State Bar of Texas is not a collection agency, it cannot collect “third party” debts or bills. CAAP will explain that “creditor’s” options are often through normal collection procedures, which may involve litigation. CAAP will contact the attorney to inform that attorney about the creditor’s contact with the State Bar regarding the unpaid obligation. A grievance form will be provided to the caller upon request.
CAAP compiles statistics monthly. The data provides valuable information about how Texas attorneys can better serve their clients, the public, and the profession. CAAP integrates the data into educational materials for attorneys and the public.
- CAAP staff members responded to approximately 169 contacts
daily, or 4069 contacts in October 2010.
- CAAP opened and processed approximately 95 new dispute
resolution files in October 2010.
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The Grievance Oversight Committee is a panel of volunteers comprised of six attorneys and three members of the public appointed by the Texas Supreme Court. The Committee is charged with reviewing the operation of the attorney-client grievance process and reporting its observations and recommendations to the Court.
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