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Should my lawyer know if my case has been dismissed?

Boston, MA |
Filed under: Professional ethics

Two years ago, a civil suit was brought against me and it was dismissed 10 days later by a judge. My lawyer never told me and had me negotiating a settlement 6 months after it had been dismissed. My lawyer's name is nowhere on the docket and the court said they did not notify me because nobody was listed as my representative. If he took my retainer, wasn't he obligated to tell the court he was my lawyer? My lawyer admits that he "forgot" to tell me and thought the case had gone away. I do not know when or how he discovered it was dismissed, but he charged me over $1,000 in fees after the dismissal date and says I owe him money beyond the retainer I gave him. The case has just been refiled against me. I want my money back from him and a copy of my file. What should I do?

Attorney Answers 4


You may want to consult a new attorney and ask that attorney for advice after s/he has seen all the details, and all of the filings. If you do, be sure to bring the new attorney a copy of your original representation contract with your current attorney.

Do you want accurate, personalized, legal advice that you can rely on? You will have to hire an attorney, not ask on Avvo. I am not your attorney and am not creating an attorney-client relationship by this post. I am therefore giving only general advice. This advice may not apply to you or your situation; may not take account of all possibilities, and may not match the advice I would give to a client. DO NOT rely on this advice or any other advice on Avvo to make your legal decisions. If you want an answer to a legal question you should retain an attorney who is licensed in your state.

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I agree with Attorney Hammarlund. If you do not already have a copy of your signed retainer agreement with the old attorney, I would obtain one and bring a signed copy of it with you to another attorney. Generally, you should have received a copy of your file upon the end of the attorney's representation with you. If this did not happen, go down to the court, request your file from the civil clerk at the court and make a copy of your file. Lastly, you should have received frequent bills (usually monthly bills from the old attorney). If you have these, then great. Otherwise, request all ofthem from the old attorney to justify his "unpaid" fees.

With a copy of the agreement, documents in your file, and copies of your bills, another attorney will have a clear picture and will be able to help you!

The content of this answer should not be relied upon or used as a subsitute for consultation with professional advisors and it should be clearly understood that no attorney-client privilege has been created. A more complete answer and/or more accurate answer can only be provided in a more thorough examination of the facts in a consultation with my firm.

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Without knowing the reason for the dismissal it is hard to comment on the ethics involved in the situation. However your lawyer should have notified you immediately upon the case being dismissed and gone over the reasons with you if there a reason it was dismissed but negotiations were ongoing.

Find a new attorney immediately to discuss this matter.

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Something about this question does not add up.

Your lawyer has an obligation to keep you informed of your case, and notify you of significant developments, like a dismissal. That being said, dismissals on the basis of procedural defects are often and easily overturned. In other words, oftentimes a dismissal is not the end of a dispute. This could be why your attorney was continuing to negotiate on your behalf even after dismissal. Still, you should have been adequately informed.

If your lawyer never made an appearance, then all notices should have been sent directly to you. If they weren't, then it is likely your attorney did make an appearance.

At this point, you should find a new attorney to see if some a return of fees is warranted, and to make sure that this case is actually handled properly this time.

Christopher Vaughn-Martel is a Massachusetts lawyer with the firm of Vaughn-Martel Law in Boston, Massachusetts. All answers are based on Massachusetts law and the limited facts presented by the questioner. All answers are provided to the general public for educational purposes only and no attorney-client relationship is formed by providing an answer to a question. To schedule a consultation with a lawyer, and obtain advice and review of your specific legal issue, please call us today at 617-357-4898 or visit us at

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