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Can a lawyer drop you in the middle of the case because his work load is too full? after I paid him $1000.00 towards retainer

Simi Valley, CA |

In Oct 08 I found an attorney that agreed to take my case allowing me to pay him what I could even though he asks for a $5000.00 retainer. At the end of Oct i made a payment of $1000.00 i didn't have much mon he said he would put all court costs in the law suit w/my ex. For months i tried numerous times to reach him but with no luck, in late Apr.his secretary told me that my ex was being served. I made an appt thats when I requested a copy of the papers my ex was served because nothing was even discussed with me he went on to say his schedule is so busy he didn't know if he had time for my case he'd let me know and find me a couple other attnys.After not hearing from him i called he told me an amount was offered we agreed it wasnt enough that he could argue it 1 week later he drops me

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Attorney answers 3


First of all, what does your fee agreement say? In any case where the anticipated legal fees are more than a thousand dollars, the attorney is required to provide you with a written fee agreement that spells out the hourly rate.

Frankly, a thousand bucks doesn't go far when the lawyer is charging a couple of hundred dollars an hour.

Most people say "retainer" any time they give a lawyer money, but a true retainer is pretty rare. It is simply to guarantee the lawyer will be available, but doesn't include any actual legal services; for instance, if you weren't sure you wanted to file for divorce yet, you might pay a retainer for the lawyer to agree not to consult with your spouse.

It is more likely you made an advance fee agreement, where you gave the attorney money which should have been placed in his trust account, a special checking account monitored by the State Bar. The lawyer withdraws money as fees are earned. When the client's funds get low, the attorney asks for a "refresher" to ensure there is money to pay for future legal services.

You are entitled to copies of documents and an accounting of the hours the attorney has worked. Have you checked the court's file to see if there are original documents there? If the lawyer lied to you, that's a very serious ethical breach.

There are many more consumer resources on the State Bar's website at

Good luck!
Bob Marshall
Chico, CA


Can a lawyer drop you? No and sort of. His understanding of his representing you might have been different from your understanding. In most cases to "drop you" means filing a form to substitute out as attorney. If nothing was filed, then the court does not have him as attorney of record and there is no need for him to "sub out." If something was filed, the court would require him to submit a signed substitution of attorney (signed by you and him) or to file a motion to be relieved as counsel (and hold a court hearing).

Stephanie White
Simi Valley, CA

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Hard to say what is going on here but from your description and nothing more, this attorney sounds unethical. He took your retainer with possibly no intention of going to trial if necessary and then dumps you when he did not get a good settlement offer. he also failed to communicate with you citing lame excuses about being busy - busy with what, he's in the business of providing legal services. Why would your case be less important than another client. You should discuss the matter with the California State Bar at 1-800-843-9053 .

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