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Am I in the right to take this attorney to arbitration?

Bakersfield, CA |

Attorney represented me during a difficult divorce and in the middle of my divorce requested that I sign a letter to release him as my attorney unless I came up with my balance and a additional retainer fee. He had told me at our first meeting that I would not have to worry about attorney fees due to my ex husband making the money that he does. I had addressed this issue with him numerous times about money. Always reassuring me that "your ex will have to pay" Left me in a terrible situation having to find another attorney during my divorce.

Attorney Answers 3


To what end? It is not malpractice for an attorney to withdraw from a case and an attorney is not bound to you.

The problem you have with any action against this attorney is whether you were damaged. Also, I assume you probably signed some sort of written agreement, so the terms of that agreement will likely dictate what would happen. After all, a well drafted fee agreement will contain language addressing this very issue.

However, if you really want to find out, you need to get a copy of the fee agreement and meet with a lawyer in your area to review options.

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Your situation is very common, and fee arbitration is not going to address or resolve any issues about whether your first attorney had a right to bail on representing you, or even whether that attorney had a right to require additional payment during the course of your case. Arbitration is about the amount of the fees that the attorney has charged or is demanding.

It is common in marital dissolution proceedings for the court to order the party in the economically superior position to pay the attorney fees of the other party, or for the court to make an allocation and distribution of marital community assets that accomplishes equalization on the issue of capability for paying for legal representation. Where, during the course of the case, the factual issues reveal that such payment mechanism may not be possible or is doubtful, it is routine for the attorney of the economically dependent party to look to the client for payment. The attorney is not held hostage to provide service for free, nor to continue to work at risk of non-payment.

It is unlikely that fee arbitration can offer you anything meaningful here unless you are contesting the amount of fees charged by your first attorney. But your post makes no reference to that issue, so how significant can that be?

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This is really more of an ethics question than one about arbitration law. As such, California's bar organization may offer you some guidance. You are already aware that fee arbitration exists. You may be able to get an advisory opinion from the bar as to whether this attorney acted improperly. If, in fact, you had no choice but to hire another attorney then there may be circumstances where you have a basis to dispute a portion of what the first attorney has charged.

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