My biggest problem will be finding someone who will do their job well in helping me defend myself against my attorney who lied(surprise) and withheld and miscommunicated information and abused my trust, but is "respected" among her peers-one of which will be arbitrating the matter. In the small San Joaquin Valley community we live in here in California. I do not want to make trouble, but what she did was wrong. Any advice on what kind of attorney will help me to manage this for the best possible outcome for all parties would be great. Thank you.
There are lawyers who specialize in legal malpractice cases, so you should call you local bar association to find one if you want to hire a lawyer with that kind of expertise. You don't need to be represented at a fee arbitration, though, because they are conducted with very little formality. I wouldn't worry about another lawyer being reluctant to help you or to do their job well. If you hire a lawyer, he/she is legally obligated to represent you to the best of his/her ability. Believe it or not, even lawyers don't like it when other lawyers hurt their clients. It reflects poorly on our entire profession. If your former lawyer acted unprofessionally such that your fees should be returned, your arbitrator will so find. But remember, if the arbitrator doesn't find in your favor, that doesn't mean you didn't get a fair result, just that the arbitrator did not find your case compelling.
I take on other lawyers in Las Vegas on legal malpractice cases and occasionally I represent clients against their former attorneys in fee disputes.
Generally in a fee dispute case I will ask for a retainer of $5,000 or even $10,000. I figure if I am going to make an enemy in my legal community, I want to get paid well. I also want to see some pretty outrageous conduct on the part of the attorney suing for fees. (And sometimes it's there.)
If there is a $5,000 fee dispute and you can make reasonable arguments for either side, I'm not going to get involved.
Unfortunately, there are some lawyers out there who will take a large retainer fee from you regardless of whether they think they can help you or not.
Depending on the facts of your case and the amount of money involved you may find it hard or uneconomical to get a good attorney to represent you in which case, as the first lawyer who answered pointed out, you may have to take advantage of the right to represent yourself.
Because you seek a lawyer for a type of work that most lawyers don't do, don't be shy about calling a large number of attorneys.
Fee disputes are often different from legal malpractice. Typically a good legal malpractice case results from a single careless mistake involving a crucial deadline. We all make mistakes and a lawyer is not a bad person for making one mistake. But, fee disputes often involve an accusation that the lawyer was dishonest. So a lawyer whose billing is attacked will likely take it as a personal attack while a lawyer who missed a filing deadline often understands that it is natural that there is a claim against him or her.
You need an attorney who has experience in legal malpractice and attorney fee disputes. I have handled both kinds of cases. Most attorneys who have experience in this field are not shy or worried about having another attorney as the opposing party. You say that one of your attorney's peers will be the arbitrator, if I were representing you, this is the first issue I would want to review.
With due respect to my colleagues, I humbly disagree with the idea that you need an attorney who knows malpractice.
I have been a fee arbitrator for 18 years. A fee arbitration has nothing to do with malpractice. It has everything to do with fees and costs.
Whether or not an attorney earned the fee they charged is the primary issue in a fee arbitration. Damages arising out of alleged attorney malpractice is expressly outside the jurisdiction of a fee arbitration.
There is a middle ground issue that requires the arbitrator to look at attorney conduct to determine if that conduct has rendered the work done valueless or of less value than was originally anticipated. For instance, if a wills and trusts attorney drafts a will that is determined to be unusable for its intended purpose, while that might be malpractice if it causes the client damage, it is also something the fee arbitrator can look at to determine that the real value of the instrument is zero, and thereby determine the attorney is not entitled to his or her fee.
You need to find an attorney who has either acted as a fee arbitrator for years, or who has significant experience in the area of fee arbitration. One way to do that is to find out from the local bar association who is sponsoring the program who is on the list of arbitrators, and make contact with one of them.
If you are concerned about favoritism, then go to a neighboring county and seek names from that bar association.
Good luck to you.
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