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How can I protect myself from a greedy lawyer?

New York, NY |

Just paid (charged) more than 1k to have a lawyer serve a Copy of Complaint to my wife. The lawyer still needed me to fax a copy of the Summons with Notice that I originally filed, my wife's SS#, and her address, which I haven't done. However, I found out the agency that originally prepared my divorce papers can prepare a Copy of Complaint for me for a tenth of the price I paid my lawyer. Now I'm asking my lawyer if I could possibly pull out of our agreement (simply: get a refund), but he's telling me he's already served the papers and called my wife's lawyer, etc. I asked him how could he have done all of that when they still needed more information from me, i.e. Summons with Notice, wife's SS#, wife's address. I feel he's lying.

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Attorney answers 4

Best Answer
Posted

I agree. Terminate the lawyer and demand a full accounting of the time he claims he spent and if you're still not satisfied, file a Grievance and that committee will investigate and that will usually result in a settlement by the attorney if they did not really spend all the time they claim.

On the other hand, be advised that the lawyer may have legitimately spent the time and could have served the documents as he claims without that other information and that could then justify his bill once he sends it to you. In the meanwhile, demand your file back and tell him/her to refrain from doing any more work on your behalf.

Good luck.

You may call our office at 516-248-6600 or send an email to us at Ted@Thelawteam.com. This answer does not form an attorney/client relationship with anyone and any answers do not constitute direct legal advice and should not be followed unless and until you have spoken with an attorney of your choice.

Asker

Posted

I paid a flat fee of $1550. So he's fully paid to serve a Copy of Complaint. He's not paid on an hourly basis.

Theodore W. Robinson

Theodore W. Robinson

Posted

But he will have to bill hourly once you fire him and ask for a bill. His fee is then based upon quantum meruit, which means hourly. Good luck.

Asker

Posted

Probably that's why he asked me to just call him back tomorrow, so he could "build up" time. So after he bills me, that's when I file a complaint with the NY County Bar Assoc. Thanks.

Posted

Fire the lawyer, and file a fee grievance with the New York County Lawyers Association.

Asker

Posted

Do I need to tell him I'm filing a grievance if he doesn't repay me? I don't think he's done any action yet, not without an address.

Asker

Posted

Can he build up a case to sue me for wanting my fees back?

Posted

If the only thing the lawyer did to earn the 1k+, you got ripped off. Unless it is a difficult service, a licensed process server can serve the summons and complaint for no more than $100 and that is probably high. Are you sure the lawyer didn't do anything else to earn the fee?

I am a former federal and State prosecutor and now handle criminal defense and personal injury/civil rights cases. Feel free to check out my web site and contact me at (212) 385-8015 or via email at Eric@RothsteinLawNY.com. The above answer is for informational purposes only and not meant as legal advice.

Asker

Posted

Yes, I'm positive. I spoke to him initially around 2pm and called him back 2 hours later. His secretary told me he's already worked on it. Then he called me back another 2 hours later, telling me the same thing. How could he have served a Copy of Complaint without my wife's address?

Asker

Posted

Initially, he wanted me to pay a retainer fee of $3500 because he thought it could escalate to a contested divorce. However, I convinced him that I my mother-in-law left me a message, confirmed by my wife's lawyer that my wife didn't want to prolong the process. Her lawyer only suggested to get my own lawyer because I didn't know legal process and time is of the essence for my wife who is a conditional resident.

Asker

Posted

He charged me $1550 because he was referred by my work union and that's their flat fee for an Uncontested Divorce.

Posted

I've handled a lot of fee disputes, and there are usually two sides to every story. My gut feeling tells me that the lawyer filled out forms that he was requested to fill out and has earned most of the fee. Ask for an itemized bill, and then file for a fee hearing.

Asker

Posted

How could he have "earned" most of the fee when some paralegal could do the procedure for 10th of what he charged me? He didn't have to lie like that. As a lawyer he would know those things. The only things I can think of are greed and sociopathy.

Jeffrey Bruce Gold

Jeffrey Bruce Gold

Posted

In New York, you can't hire a paralegal to do your legal work, so that really isn't an option. You probably could have done it yourself as well, but you didn't. You agreed to pay for a service, and while it remains to be seen if the lawyer provided the service, if he did, he is entitled to be paid at whatever rate you agreed to.

Asker

Posted

Anyone who is aware of these procedures and their associated fees and anyone with a conscience would just suggest to someone exactly that - "just do it yourself or hire a paralegal 'cos it would cost less." Instead, he decided to just keep that information to himself and dupe someone who's not familiar with these processes. I'm saying this 'cos one time I actually consulted with a lawyer who was scrupulous enough to tell me I'd save more money by not hiring his services.

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