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Is there any recourse when an attorney is unprepared for court?

Rancho Cucamonga, CA |

My attorney was not prepared for court today because he didn't have the facts straight and didn't prepare me for the possibility that a settlement might be offered. He only discussed a trial. As a result he recommended I accept an amount that I was really not comfortable with by influencing my decision saying that if I did not take it the judge could reduce the amount even further. However, in his initial consultation, he offered the moon. He increased his fee by 1/3 and said the other side will pay. What was it for?? This attorney is highly rated on this website with one negative comment (similar). He didn't notify me re my divorce hearing. It came and went. I have settled and terminated my rights. Now what? I tried to trust him when I was feeling vulnerable. Now, I am devastated.

Attorney Answers 4

  1. Best answer

    The issue comes down to whether or not the settlement was equitable. If there was a settlement, then his preparation had little to do with it. You might want to take the settlement to another attorney to have it reviewed to see if anything was done wrong.

  2. Not everyone always gets everything they want, and no attorney would ever promise any particular result in any litigated case. Indeed, initial consultations usually only involve hearing "your" side of the case, later events revealing that things were not as clear as you originally stated. There certainly appear to be communications issues. If you feel you should have obtained a better result but were somehow misled by the "unprepared" attorney, you may seek fee arbitration with the bar association. The difficulty in these cases is you must prove a "case within a case", and you should consult with another experienced attorney before doing anything else.
    Disclaimer: California attorney Robert Miller has practiced for over 45 years and restricts his practice to real estate and probate matters in the Central District of Los Angeles. Any opinion expressed is for general informational purposes only, no attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this answer, and no action or inaction should be contemplated without first employing and consulting with a competent attorney convenient to the questioner.

  3. Unfortunately, once an order is made, it is very difficult to undo, especially where there was a settlement involved with two attorneys. It is unclear what monies you are talking about, but if you are referring to spousal support, perhaps you may still be able to go back and modify the amount in the future. If you feel that your attorney was unethical, the state bar has a panel set up to investigate your allegations. Family law is a very difficult area of law, and things do not always go according to plan, nor does it always turn up roses. Consult with another attorney and get a second opinion before proceeding any further. It is very difficult to second guess another attorney's actions because we were not there.

  4. It is hard to say anything meaningful to the client who complains that his/her attorney "influenced" a decision. Such "influence" is a very large part of the attorney's professional duty to the client. Influencing advice and analysis is exactly what the non-attorney client needs and pays for.

    It also makes no sense to complain that your attorney did not warn you about the possibility that a settlement might be offered. In many circumstances, there is no advance warning by the opposition of an imminent offer, and your attorney very likely did not know that the prospect of settlement would come up that day. But you and your attorney both inevitably knew -- and talked about -- the fact that the case was likely to settle at some point. A very tiny percentage of family law cases actually go to trial. It is not likely that you were wholly sand-bagged by the unexpected issue of a possible settlement.

    But even if you were: an offer was made; you and your lawyer had a discussion about it; and you made a decision. It goes without saying that it was a very difficult decision that took into account a great many factors, tangible and intangible, and many with psychological and emotional complications. Now you have buyer's remorse. That is common, and it is understandable. But it is not the fault of your attorney, and it is not -- without more -- suggestive of an ethical breach by your lawyer.

    Divorce is a mine-field -- psychological, financial, social -- every conceivable kind of loss and hurt has been experienced. It is understandable and human to want to lay off your doubts and anxieties on your attorney. But that doesn't make it sound or right.

    Your best course at this point is to obtain a second opinion and perhaps also some skilled psychological support services.

    No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

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