Complaint Alternatives

You're not happy with your attorney. But you may be able to get what you need without resorting to filing a complaint with the State Bar.

Try these alternatives to solve some common problems:

If you believe that your attorney's fees are too high

If you believe that your attorney's bill is too high, talk to your lawyer about the bill and make your concerns clear. You may find that the case was more complicated and took more time than you realized. Your lawyer may even agree that a mistake was made on the bill.

If you can't resolve the problem by discussing it with your attorney, you can request Mandatory Fee Arbitration (MFA). Fee arbitration is an informal, confidential and lower cost forum for resolving fee disputes between lawyers and their clients. MFA arbitration is mandatory for the lawyer if the client requests arbitration. A list of local bar associations with fee arbitration programs is on the State Bar's website.

If there is no local bar association in your area or your local bar association will not take on an arbitration in your area, contact the State Bar Fee Arbitration office at 415-538-2020 or write to: Mandatory Fee Arbitration, The State Bar of California, 180 Howard St., San Francisco, CA, 94105-1639.

Finding a new attorney

The State Bar cannot give you legal advice or refer you to an attorney. But if you need to hire an attorney to handle your case or want to consult an attorney on a potential case, a certified lawyer referral service can put you in touch with a lawyer who can handle your problem. If your particular problem can be resolved without a lawyer, the referral service will tell you how to get the help you need.

Be sure that the service is certified by the State Bar. Lawyer referral services which are certified follow certain rules which will protect you.

A certified lawyer referral service may direct you to lawyers with experience in certain areas of the law such as bankruptcy, criminal, probate, landlord-tenant, family law and other areas. Certification Rules also encourage lawyer referral services to offer free and low-cost legal help as well as lawyers who speak languages in addition to English.

In order to find a lawyer referral service, look in the yellow pages of your telephone book at the beginning of the listing of 'Attorneys.' In addition, a list of certified lawyer referral services can be found on the State Bar's Web site.

The State Bar also has a telephone line to assist callers in locating the nearest lawyer referral service. The toll-free number for callers inside California is 866-442-2529 (866-44CALAW). Callers outside California can dial 415-538-2250.

For a list of lawyers certified as specialists by the State Bar in one of nine areas, go to Legal Specialist Search. A new Web site, also may be of assistance.

In addition, the State Bar publishes a consumer pamphlet called Finding the Right Lawyer. You can read this pamphlet and others on the website.

Problems communicating with your attorney

If you are having difficulty communicating with your attorney, consider these measures before filing a complaint with the State Bar:

  1. Phone the attorney's office and leave a message for a return call.
  2. If you do not receive a return call within a reasonable period of time, write a letter to the attorney, preferably with return receipt requested, requesting the attorney to contact you within a specified (reasonable) period of time. If the attorney fails to respond, this letter can be used as evidence for future State Bar purposes.

Difficulty getting files from your attorney

The Rules of Professional Conduct require an attorney to return to a client all papers and property to which the client is entitled. The complete original file belongs to the client and the attorney may copy the file at his or her own expense.

However, if an agreement has been entered with the attorney relating to copy costs, you may be responsible for such costs. This is only true when you are seeking copies of the file while you are still being represented by the attorney. You should make a formal request to the attorney in writing. If the attorney fails to respond, this letter can be used as evidence for future State Bar purposes.