There are a variety of ways to address problems with an attorney, in addition to filing a complaint with the State Bar.
If you believe that your attorney's bill is too high, talk to your lawyer 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 directly with your attorney, you can request Mandatory Fee Arbitration (MFA). Fee arbitration is an informal, confidential and low-cost option for resolving fee disputes between lawyers and their clients. Mandatory fee arbitration is required 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 a fee arbitration in your area, contact the State Bar's Fee Arbitration office at 415-538-2020.
The Rules of Professional Conduct require attorneys to return all client 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 you have an agreement with the attorney relating to copying expenses, 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.
If you are having difficulty communicating with your attorney, document your calls to your attorney. Each time you call or email the attorney's office and leave a message, make a record of it.
If you don’t 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 still doesn’t respond, this letter can be used as evidence for future State Bar purposes. Keep all records of your attempts at contact.
If all attempts fail and you do file a complaint, you may need to find a new attorney.
The State Bar can’t 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.
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 or www.LawHelpCalifornia.org.
Having a fee dispute with your attorney?
Recovering money through the Client Security Fund
Having a problem with your lawyer?