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How do I deal with my Lawyer in this situation?
August 15, 2010 7:40 AM   Subscribe

My lawyer is holding a garnishment her office managed to get from ex h's bank. She is requiring me to sign the garnishment completely over to her for her to go toward her fees...but the ex is supposed to be responsible for her fees.

Backstory: I was divorced 11 years ago. I was very stupid and agreed to a paralegal divorce after 24+ years of marriage. (No children) My ex bullied me into taking nothing of his rather decent retirement. I agreed, as long as I could have 1/2 of what was left in the equity of our house. It wasn't a lot of money (it would have been 18 grand to me)..and unbelievably instead of selling the house (then) he refinanced the house and got 3/4's of the proceeds and then went bankrupt. He tried to get out of everything and leave me penniless. I did have my divorce papers and a prommissary note, however!

So...three years ago I got a lawyer to go to court with me over the issue and though she made the court understand that ex could not bankrupt out of something in our marriage dissolution she coerced me into taking 1/2 of what ex owed me (9,000) in installments of 300 per month. I hated this, but she told me she was leaving for Japan the next day and that I had to take the deal. I also had to pay her legal fees (but I realized that without her I would have gotten nothing at all).

After 2.5 years ex stopped paying and I allowed a "moratorium" because he got laid off. The ex h and I were barely speaking, but he seemed forthcoming when told me that he had a lawsuit against his employer pending and that if he won it he would pay me in full. I believed him. Fast forward to recently, he did indeed win a settlement and suddenly he chose this as the time to conveniently "have issues" with me and stop communicating with me. I realized that if I wanted to see any of the money ex has owed me for years I would have to enforce the stipulated judgement against him that provided if he stopped paying everything would come due along with interest and attorneys fees.

I contacted my attorney and via emails she got details from me and would occasionally call the people I had knowledge about (my ex's attorney for example). I was really upset that the ex was clearly trying to avoid paying me all together AGAIN. From the start I told her that I needed him to pay her fees, (and the stipulated judgement says that he must). My lawyer was very difficult to reach throughout this whole renewed situation and I would email like once every two weeks to ask if and when she would garnish the balance of what he owed me and also interest and attorneys fees. I was learning through the grapevine that the settlement was imminent. She finally put forth a garnishment but it was too late because he had already been paid. -This was so aggravating to me because I really need the money and she missed intercepting the money from ex's employer.

Surprisingly, the ex finally sent me the check. I believe he was motivated to do so by learning an attorney had sent out a garnishment. He has absolutely no property, so he is judgement proof. I was glad to get the funds and I reported it to her. I learned from ex's daughter that the settlement he recieived was a decent one so I asked the lawyer to also garnish for interest (an additional 1,000) and of course, for her fees. Her office successfully garnished for the interest. The other day she sent me a cryptic email telling me that I must come in to her office to sign it over to her. Her bill is over 2 grand! I emailed back right away to tell her that I need him to pay her..he is the one who just recently came into this money and I am desperately poor! My ex h is very histrionic and I feel certain that he has contacted her office to rant and rave and to tell her that there is no way in God's green earth that he is going to pay her bill so then she sent that email to me about how I must sign over my interest to her office. I emailed her and asked her if ex contacted her. She has not answered.

Here is an important thing: her bill seems really high to me. In the itemization it shows that her assistant did most everything and it seems inflated. It indicates that he spent over 11 hours on my case. 11 hours and they didn't even know when the settlement was paid..they missed it. Does 11 hours seem high? I have a real hard time imagining anyone working 11 hours on this! Really? A few phone calls and garnishment papers? Really? a total of 14 hours altogether? She reportedly put 3 hours into it (which is possible, I guess).

I need advice how to proceed. I told her that I definitely do not want to pay her fees--that it HAS to come from the ex as stipulated in the judgement. She emailed me back and said "no, he will have to reimburse YOU". What?? This truly is news to me--I told her again and again that HE has to pay it.

Her office did file papers that say that ex has until 8/24 to dispute her bill. Do *I* need to dispute her bill if I don't agree with it? How does one do that? I wouldn't even know how to challenge it. I am super super super poor and I need that interest payment and I can not afford the 2 grand.

Please please try not to be snarky in answers to me. I understand that lawyers are necessary and expensive. I just need to understand how to be business-like but also an advocate for myself! My lawyer is now she is grabbing the money I needed grabbed for me...probably because she realizes that the ex will now move his money and not pay willingly.

Advice please.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm an attorney, and frankly, you come across as the typical impossible divorce client.

I'm assuming you haven't paid this attorney any money out of your own pocket. Is that true? You've seen how hard it is to get money from your ex, why should the attorney take the hit financially, when the attorney has no reason (other than the expectation of remuneration) for caring about you or doing anything for you at all?

The attorney is right. You need to pay the attorney's fee out of the garnishment. It's up to you to get your ex to reimburse you for the attorney's fee. And no, $2000 is not too high for this work, nor is the assistant's billing unreasonable, based on what you've told us.
posted by jayder at 7:54 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


And this bit struck me:

I was very stupid and agreed to a paralegal divorce after 24+ years of marriage.

This alone stands as proof that a good attorney's services, even if the fee seems exorbitant, are very much worth the cost.
posted by jayder at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am guessing that it is up to you to collect legal fees from your husband and that it is your responsibility to settle the debt(fees) owed your attorney. The original court order regarding legal fees is between you and your husband and no other third parties. As a practical manner you can file a complaint with your local Bar Association asking for dispute resolution on a fee but I do not think it will go very far. Most attorneys require you sign a fee agreement at the onset of a case--if you did this it will spell out the respective hourly/flat rate or fees. If you did not you may have grounds for a complaint but if the fees are with in what is considered acceptable community standards they will probably be upheld.

You can also try and negotiate with your attorney to split or share the additional income you have, or will, receive(d). In most instances attorneys are quite insistent on being paid up front because experience strongly suggests that they will otherwise not get paid. While this may not be true for you--it is true in all to many cases.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:03 AM on August 15, 2010


jaydar, I think that was pretty harsh, I don't think she sounds impossible at all. - just frustrated with a bad lawyer. To collect the legal fees from the husband will require another two thousand dollar legal fee - is she responsible for those fees too? Or does she then go to another lawyer for another judgement? Nice pyramid scheme for the lawyers!

Contact your local bar association. You asked for the interest and fees as part of the garnishment and she has not delivered.
posted by saucysault at 8:24 AM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


jaydar, I think that was pretty harsh, I don't think she sounds impossible at all. - just frustrated with a bad lawyer.

I'm sure we won't hear from her again since this question is anonymous, but my take on it is that the husband disgorged a big chunk of the debt owed to the client after the lawyer began garnishment proceedings (even the client admits that the husband sent the check because the lawyer started the garnishment).

Then, after having receiving all that money, the client then asked the lawyer to garnish for the interest, which the lawyer did.

The lawyer is not allowed to garnish for the legal fee, unless it is reduced to a judgment against the husband, which it has not been.

The lawyer's efforts have, thus, resulted in a considerable amount of money being paid to the client, and yet the client is refusing to pay the lawyer's fee. It is reprehensible conduct on the part of the client, getting a good result as the result of a lawyer's work, but refusing to pay the fee. The client should assume the risk of the husband not being able to pay the lawyer's fee; the lawyer should not assume this risk.
posted by jayder at 8:47 AM on August 15, 2010 [12 favorites]


Did you sign a fee agreement? What does it say? If the check your ex sent you is applied to fees, it should not be applied to the balance your ex owes you. That might be a nasty surprise to your ex.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:52 AM on August 15, 2010


jaydar, Here I am!

I am "typical impossible divorce client"? I think I am extremely untypical because I was trusting and tried to handle things without a lawyer initially. So that made me stupid. Okay..What else makes me "typical?" Because I am angry? because I do not like paying a high bill out of this ridiculously small amount of money (when ex is the one who recently won a big sum and I live on 800 dollars a month disability check?)

How am I supposed to get him to "reimburse me"? She is the one with the powers to garnish. My understanding was that she would file the judgement and garnish for her fees. No, I have not paid her anything for this 2nd round. She didn't ask me for money until BLAM I got this 2,000 bill. I paid her a princely sum to get the 300 a month agreement the first time around.

By the way this huge sum you think I got is paultry! I got 6 thousand dollars from a 24+ marriage. yeah yeah I know you could CARE LESS about my circumstances but I am 60 years old, I am on social security and my ex h is the one who has and had all the money. She is supposed to enter a judgement for the attorneys fees.

I sound like a typical divorce client? You sound like a typical lawyer. It doesn't matter to you that things were done incorrectly, not on time, & no one has to prove this 14 hours of work thing...I am just "super lucky" that she did anything at all. right?

This alone stands as proof that a good attorney's services, even if the fee seems exorbitant, are very much worth the cost.

REALLY. That statement is ridiculous to me. Are you saying lawyers do not have to justify their invoices in any way?
posted by naplesyellow at 9:00 AM on August 15, 2010


I may have completely missed this, but wouldn't you want to take the ex to court, have a judge demand payment of legal fee's, THEN have the lawyer go after said fees?
posted by Sufi at 9:09 AM on August 15, 2010


If your current circumstances were not so poor, would you have the same convictions? Because as unfortunate as your current situation may be, that does not necessarily change what you are owed from 11 years ago, or whether you are required to pay your lawyer.

Jayder's advice may not have been sugar-coated, but I thought it seemed sound, especially the followup.
posted by hermitosis at 9:13 AM on August 15, 2010


Keep in mind that attorneys and their staff generally bill in 15 minute minimum increments...and you can get to 11 hours pretty quickly. 2k for 11 hours is about 181 an hour, which is not expensive for a lawyer, but is pretty pricey for a paralegal/assistant. Paralegals earn around $25 an hour national average, which can translate to a 50 per hour billable...sometimes more depending on the qualifications of the paralegal.

However, as someone who has utilized the services of both very good attorneys and their staff, I can tell you that 2k is a pretty small bill for 11 hours of services. (For example, my attorneys charged about that to review my house contract when I was buying property and having a house built - 11 years ago. Their paralegal is the one that had to go downtown and pull all the deeds and all that stuff to make sure title was clear, etc...and stuff like travel time was included in the bill at a $40 per hour rate.)

Attorney fees can range all over the map, but a rate of $400 a hour is not uncommon, in my experience. (I live in a large metroplex, and my particular attorney is a partner in an international firm, for comparison purposes.) On a few things where I've wanted legal advice, the attorney has suggested, and I accepted suggestions that I work with a junior attorney who charges significantly less, for boilerplate type legal issues. (reviewing a work contract, as an example.) Those junior attorneys, generally right out of law school still charged above the 181.00 per hour you're being billed, so I would anticipate that your average billing cost is an average between your attorneys rate and the assistant's rate.

tl;dr: 2k is not an unreasonable bill for 11 hours of services and all the details involved with services (paperwork, etc.). If you didn't have a contract stating that all her fees would have to be gathered from the opposing party, and that you carried no legal liability for payment...you owe her the money, unfortunately.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:32 AM on August 15, 2010


Anonymous/Naplesyellow--IANAL but I have had the opportunity to review probably over 900 ethical (and some fee) complaints against attorneys. Yes, your case does sound like a "typical (unhappy) divorce client". Note, not impossible but clearly unhappy. It is clear that over the years you have made a series of unfortunate decisions which have compounded your situation. Most often those decisions reflect your naivete, inexperience or perception of being helpless or victimized by others. I do believe many persons have either unrealistic expectations for what their attorney can do (perhaps from watching too many TV legal dramas), are excessively bitter and cynical regarding legal services and/or have little appreciation for the very fine financial edge on which many attorneys practice. Your most important mistake was eleven years ago in agreeing to what appears to be a very bad settlement agreement which will continue to act as a significant brake on your own financial stability. As a practical matter, either file a complaint with the local bar, work out a win/win situation with your present attorney or get a new attorney. While this may sound harsh--I will bet that the best use of your energy and talent is to find other means of bettering your financial situation rather than trying to remedy failures in the divorce. Wishing you the best
posted by rmhsinc at 9:40 AM on August 15, 2010 [15 favorites]


I feel your pain. I had to decide whether to hire a lawyer for a small job and learned it was going to be 1K to get in the door and probably another 1-2K later. Mind you, this was a lawyer I'd found through a list of practitioners who were offering discounts to union members. The situation was somewhat similar to yours in that it arose through a lack of rigorous legal setup in the beginning. So, enough of a mess that just having a lawyer friend send a few letters wasn't going to cut it. But 2K or even 1K seemed like a lot in terms of how much was at stake. I went ahead anyway, and wound up being glad but realize that was largely luck. (And the lawyer said he was giving me a break at the end; he had billable hours for over the initial 1K but declined to send another invoice. He seemed to find the whole case rather funny.)

I have to say that 2K sounds about right for how much of a mess this was, BUT having persuaded you to take half the settlement amount, your lawyer (it is the same one, right?) is now getting an awfully big chunk of your total settlement, devalued as it is by how long it took you to get it. Is there any chance that if you express your dismay at the size of the bill and describe your circumstances, they might give you a discount?
posted by BibiRose at 10:48 AM on August 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was a paralegal for 7 years.

This:

The lawyer is not allowed to garnish for the legal fee, unless it is reduced to a judgment against the husband, which it has not been.

And:

The client should assume the risk of the husband not being able to pay the lawyer's fee; the lawyer should not assume this risk.

Do not jibe with this:

I realized that if I wanted to see any of the money ex has owed me for years I would have to enforce the stipulated judgement against him that provided if he stopped paying everything would come due along with interest and attorneys fees.

That sounds to me like her husband does, in fact, have a judgment against him stipulating that if he stopped paying on the $9000 ("considerable"; in what universe?) original settlement, the full remainder of that $9000, the interest and the attorneys fees would come due at that time. He stopped paying. He has now paid the remaining $6000 lump sum, and the interest of $1000 was garnished as a direct result of the attorney's efforts, so that, of course, leaves the attorney's fees.

So, jayder, regardless of whether or not her attorney "should assume" the risk of not getting paid, is it legal for her attorney to make naplesyellow sign over the garnished interest payment to her in partial payment of her attorneys fees? Are you saying it's naplesyellow's responsibility to enforce that existing judgment against her ex-husband? I thought it was a judge's job to enforce judgments and the lawyer's job to petition the judge to do just that.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 11:46 AM on August 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Your husband and you signed an agreement that if he did not keep up the payments on the debt he owed you, he would pay your attorney's fees.

Separately, you and your attorney signed an agreement that you would pay her for her services. (I would assume.)

She's right that she is not the one who has the agreement with your husband; you are. She has an agreement with you, and then you have one with your husband. She can enforce her agreement against you, and you can turn around and enforce your agreement against your husband. But you can't get out of your agreement with her by pointing at your agreement with your husband.

Look at it this way: say you go to Target and buy a set of speakers, and it turns out there's something wrong with them. So you go to Target with your receipt and a copy of their return policy that says you have the right to a refund. And Target whips out a copy of their contract with the speaker manufacturer that says the manufacturer has to cover the costs of defects. Can Target tell you to go contact the manufacturer? No, Target has to honor its agreement with you, and then go get the manufacturer to honor its agreement with Target.
posted by palliser at 11:53 AM on August 15, 2010


She has an agreement with you, and then you have one with your husband. She can enforce her agreement against you, and you can turn around and enforce your agreement against your husband. But you can't get out of your agreement with her by pointing at your agreement with your husband.

IANAL. The ex-husband is not going to pay up just because naplesyellow says so. Naplesyellow hired her lawyer to get money from her husband. Saying that "you can turn around and enforce your agreement against your husband" is telling her to continue using her lawyer to "enforce" the agreement - what other option does she have? It seems to me that the lawyer should work to retrieve her fees from the ex-h, including the cost of the hours it is taking her to get her money from him. Why wouldn't that work?
posted by coupdefoudre at 12:29 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


She's right that she is not the one who has the agreement with your husband; you are. She has an agreement with you, and then you have one with your husband. She can enforce her agreement against you, and you can turn around and enforce your agreement against your husband. But you can't get out of your agreement with her by pointing at your agreement with your husband.

True, questioning the amount of the bill is a separate issue and, for what it's worth, $2K for this sort of thing doesn't sound unusual to me and my services as a paralegal used to be billed at $125.00 an hour.

True, naplesyellow has a signed fee arrangement with her attorney. But also at issue here is, according to naplesyellow's telling, at some point the ex-husband did NOT honor the terms of the original settlement for $9000. Said agreement stated that if he stopped paying the $300 a month toward the $9000 settlement, the full remainder of that $9000 plus interest and attorneys fees would come due. Well, he stopped paying. So why is it now naplesyellow's responsibility to get her ex-husband to reimburse her for the attorney's fees? And what does that even mean? How is she practically supposed to accomplish that without either a.) his capitulation or b.) her attorney petitioning to enforce the earlier judgment? Attorneys petition judges to enforce these sorts of judgments all the time. Why isn't her attorney doing that?

No, I'm not a lawyer. But I worked for lawyers for years. This, to me, sounds like an attorney who wants to get paid, is tired of her client and this case, and is attempting to lead naplesyellow to believe that she must sign over this interest check under penalty of....well, she's a BAD PERSON! if she won't. Yes, she should pay her attorney because they have a binding agreement. Yes. Of course. But does she HAVE to sign this check over? Anybody wanna point to a statute or case law of some sort that says what this attorney is doing is legal? Ethical? All character assassination of naplesyellow aside?

Surely a payment arrangement isn't out of the question? Surely an attorney who negotiated a $300 a month payment on a $9000 divorce settlement could understand that a 60 year old woman on a fixed income - regardless of her opinion of her character - might more easily be able to pay her debts if they were broken out into smaller pieces paid over time?
posted by TryTheTilapia at 12:59 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Think about this another way.

Let's say your divorce decree says your ex-husband has to buy you a house. Would you move into the house and say to the seller, "You need to go after him to get paid. I get the house; he pays for it, so ask him for the money. And if you can't get the money from him, you're out of luck, and I've still got my house. And by the way, you're asking too much for the house, so I don't have much sympathy for your efforts to get paid the exorbitant price."

No, you'd get the money from your ex-husband, then you would buy the house.

I realize that you think the attorney should have garnished her fee; but she didn't (perhaps because there was not enough money in the account). Whatever the reason, the attorney has to be paid, and it's up to you to go ahead and pay her and then YOU go after your ex-husband for the attorney's fee. If it's so straightforward to get the fee from the ex-husband, you can hire another attorney to go after the fee that you paid to your current attorney.
posted by jayder at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe that's why this is still bugging me:

So...three years ago I got a lawyer to go to court with me over the issue and though she made the court understand that ex could not bankrupt out of something in our marriage dissolution she coerced me into taking 1/2 of what ex owed me (9,000) in installments of 300 per month.

How would this ever be a good idea? My sense is that you usually take a reduced amount in order to get the thing done and over. Here, you were going to be waiting anyway, why not wait for the whole amount? Did your lawyer really say you had to do this just because she was going to Japan? That just sounds so weird to me.
posted by BibiRose at 2:38 PM on August 15, 2010


How would this ever be a good idea? My sense is that you usually take a reduced amount in order to get the thing done and over.

Yes, clearly it was a poor settlement -- but she agreed to it. If she was going to get a reduced amount, at least get it in a lump sum; or, alternatively, stipulate that she would accept the reduced amount ($9000) in monthly payments, but if he missed a payment or was late, the entire $18,000 would be payable.

It's common that obligations set forth in a divorce decree are nondischargeable. It sounds like naplesyellow, rather than litigate the matter extensively in court and run up a big legal fee, chose to compromise and accept half of the amount owed (1/4 of the equity rather than 1/2). Then, the husband was slow to pay the 1/4 that naplesyellow agreed to.

Once again, a cautionary tale about the risks of cheapskating it on legal fees. It's been a disaster through and through, and I do feel sorry for naplesyellow.
posted by jayder at 2:50 PM on August 15, 2010


Instead of thought experiments and hypotheticals, why don't we try to answer one of naplesyellow's questions?

Her ex-husband did not hold up his end of their arrangement. As a result, he is now on the hook for her attorney's fees. Is it or is it not proper for her attorney to petition the judge to make her husband pay those fees? Does her attorney have the RIGHT to make her sign over the interest check?

Her office did file papers that say that ex has until 8/24 to dispute her bill.

Why would the attorney do this if she did not on some level agree that, perhaps, actually seeking to enforce the previous judgment in the first action is one way to get her fee paid?

First you said:

The lawyer is not allowed to garnish for the legal fee, unless it is reduced to a judgment against the husband, which it has not been.

Now you're saying this:

I realize that you think the attorney should have garnished her fee; but she didn't (perhaps because there was not enough money in the account). Whatever the reason, the attorney has to be paid, and it's up to you to go ahead and pay her and then YOU go after your ex-husband for the attorney's fee. If it's so straightforward to get the fee from the ex-husband, you can hire another attorney to go after the fee that you paid to your current attorney.

So, now maybe she COULD have tried to garnish for her fee? I thought you said she couldn't do that. Which is it?

You know what I think? I think this woman is not a very good lawyer. I think this lawyer is lazy and tired of naplesyellow and her claims against her ex-husband. I think she wants her money and she wants to pass naplesyellow back off on her ex-husband, someone she had to hire an attorney to get money from in the first place. I hope she doesn't strain her arm patting herself on the back for the great job she did for this client.

And, on preview, people sometimes "cheapskate" it on the legal fees because they don't have any
money to begin with, they got screwed over by a shitty ex-husband and they're angry about it. It doesn't make them morally bankrupt because they're not exactly eager to pay a lawyer whom they don't feel represented them in entirely good faith.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 3:24 PM on August 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, in all fairness, I re-read the question and I think the situation is ambiguous, so I was giving her the benefit of the doubt. Even if it is possible to garnish for legal fees, which is questionable, they are HER legal fees, SHE has to pay them, and she ultimately has to seek reimbursement from the ex.
posted by jayder at 4:03 PM on August 15, 2010


It doesn't make them morally bankrupt because they're not exactly eager to pay a lawyer whom they don't feel represented them in entirely good faith.

But the lawyer represented her, got her a result, etc. If she wasn't willing to pay the lawyer, she should have told the lawyer so, and let the lawyer withdraw before investing the time. Okay, sorry, I've weighed in too much in this thread ... that's it for me.
posted by jayder at 4:05 PM on August 15, 2010


"Here is an important thing: her bill seems really high to me. In the itemization it shows that her assistant did most everything and it seems inflated. It indicates that he spent over 11 hours on my case. 11 hours and they didn't even know when the settlement was paid..they missed it. Does 11 hours seem high? I have a real hard time imagining anyone working 11 hours on this! Really? A few phone calls and garnishment papers? Really? a total of 14 hours altogether? She reportedly put 3 hours into it (which is possible, I guess). "
In my experience this is a very reasonable, and even low, bill for an attorney.

In the last four years, I have dealt with attorneys on three different issues: family law, employment law, and a small claims business law issue.

The family law issue was a protracted court issue involving judges, multiple hearings, settlements, the whole nine yards. That final bill was in the high 5 figures. Our attorney had racked up 10 hours just in research and preparation before anyone saw a courtroom, because family law cases are never the same case twice, especially when two adversaries bring emotion and decades of history to the table.

The employment law situation required no court time whatsoever, and two phone meetings only. The firm reviewed documents and drafted documents, most of which was done by email. That bill was still over $2000.

The small claims business law issue was over collection of a sum of money that was less than $1000, and the attorneys for both sides billed 8-10 hours.

To second-guess the attorney's bill after the fact is to not understand what job you hired them to do. Is legal billing a complicated scheme to separate a client from her money? Absolutely... but that was what it was before you hired that attorney. This is a profession that is paid handsomely, same as it ever was. And this was likely all disclosed to you in the fee agreement.

Having paralegals and assistants handle some of the work actually keeps your bill down, because those are lower hourly rates. If my attorney ever tells me she's having her assistant do it, I often rejoice because I know I'm getting just as good a research outcome but I'm usually paying 50% less for it.

As someone who is not an attorney, but has paid a lot of money in legal fees for various reasons (every penny worthwhile and justified), I feel comfortable in saying that these are high-level professionals that we hire to go out and take care of us so we don't get screwed by others.

It's like a doctor. Are doctors expensive? Absolutely. Should I be performing my own appendectomy? Absolutely not.

To put it in perspective, naplesyellow: no matter how much you feel you deserve that $2,000 before your attorney deserves to get paid... without her, you never would have received the $9,000 that you did get from your ex.

Whether or not your ex eventually ponies up for the attorney's fees, I agree with jayder that the fees are your obligation first and foremost.
TryTheTilapia: "It doesn't make them morally bankrupt because they're not exactly eager to pay a lawyer whom they don't feel represented them in entirely good faith."
I just can't get behind this. The lawyer wasn't "representing in bad faith" when she was winning the $9,000 payment. Only now that the lawyer is trying to get paid is she doing a bad job. I hope you can see why that doesn't sound quite right, given the circumstances.
posted by pineapple at 4:18 PM on August 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two points:

(1) As stated by others, since you're the one who entered into an agreement with the lawyer, you're responsible to pay the lawyer. I can't imagine this isn't covered in the contract you signed with your lawyer. (There is a contract, right?) You could, after paying your lawyer, file a small-claims case against your ex for that amount, and hope you can get something.

(2) Eleven years is a huge chunk of your life. How much thought have you given the idea of chalking this up as a loss, a life lesson, and moving on with your life? I have to think that you could direct all this energy you're spending looking for closure on an 11 years dead relationship into some goal that's more productive for yourself and your future.

Good luck.
posted by 2xplor at 5:12 PM on August 15, 2010


How about this: explain your financial situation to the lawyer and offer to sign over the $1K interest to her if she accepts it as payment in full.

I'm sorry your ex felt he had to dick you around like this.
posted by BibiRose at 6:21 PM on August 15, 2010


Thank you to all who have taken the time to answer. I appreciate it.
Naturally, I feel the best about TryTheTilapia's understanding my situation..but still, I thank everyone for their feedback.

2xplor, uh yes, 11 years is a "huge chunk of my life" so was the nearly 30 years prior to that. I did feel it was necessary to include facts such as how long my marriage was and how long ago my divorce was and how little I was/am getting because it all seems germane to my question. I realize I probably come across all "typical divorce client like", but believe me, I understand that all my problems stemmed from NOT being all "typical divorce client like" when I should have in the beginning. Don't worry, I have a very full life besides worrying about all this. I will be glad, however, to close this final chapter.

I failed to mention in my long synopsis that I did have a contract with my lawyer 3 years ago (I don't know where it is at the moment). I paid the lawyer over 3 grand for the 9,000 "compromise".
The lawyer wanted me to "compromise" because the ex was going bankrupt and he had a good lawyer who battled on and on about how ex couldn't pay. I was very surprised that my lawyer did not work harder on my behalf and insist on the full amount that would have been due to me. I felt I HAD to take "the deal" because she told me that she couldn't do anything further for me, she was going to Japan.

So, there we are..3 years ago I paid her 3 grand to get 9 grand (in 300 dollar increments)..but then he stopped paying. The judgement says if he stops paying he pays the entire balance together with interest and attorneys fees. When I called her and emailed her (when he stopped paying) she never said "oh, and by the way, I am back on the clock as per our original contract" Granted, I did not ask..I NAIVELY thought because the judgement says he has to pay attorneys fees that he has to pay attorneys fees.
OFTEN when I wrote and spoke to her I told her she needed to get her fees from him. She didn't correct me (which she could have on many occasions) to say "no no! YOU have to get attorneys fees from him"...instead I got that sudden email recently telling me that I have to come in and sign the interest payment to over to her. Ex h is the one who just won a bunch of $ in a lawsuit. I am just the screwed ex w who has Social Security at poverty level.

You have all now convinced me that the fee is reasonable...(thanks for the edification) but I am now most interested in whether or not the attorney has the right (legally) to insist on my signing it over to her. I agree with TryTheTilapia's assessment..that my attorney really hasn't put her best effort forth (despite what many of you think--many of you think she did a "great job!")...I'm not at all so persuaded. I am glad she helped me to the extent she did, but it is safe to say she has not been my advocate. Getting 5 grand in fees from me for a 9 grand "compromise" leaving me 4 grand after that long marriage....well..I really don't understand (target tennis shoes analogy aside) why, as she knows these circumstances, that she isn't trying harder to get the money from him.

okay, so Thanks again--if anyone knows specifics pertaining to the legality of her insisting that I sign over the garnishment to her, please chime in. She has not sent me a bill. She sent me copies of the bill that she has entered with the court. Up until that email demanding that I give her the interest payment...I thought she was billing my ex h.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:29 PM on August 15, 2010


You misunderstand what it means when the judgment says your husband must pay your attorney's fees. That does not mean that your husband is now owes the attorney the money. It just increases the amount he owes you.

Separately, you owe your attorney her fees. Is there a legal requirement that you sign over this particular money to her? Probably not at this moment, but there is a legal requirement that you (not your husband) pay her the money. You can ask your attorney what will happen if you refuse to sign it over. Perhaps you will be sued by your own attorney and then a court will order you to pay her the money. Plus interest and fees.

Getting 5 grand in fees from me for a 9 grand "compromise" leaving me 4 grand after that long marriage....well..I really don't understand (target tennis shoes analogy aside) why, as she knows these circumstances, that she isn't trying harder to get the money from him.

He doesn't owe her money. You owe her money.

I am not a lawyer.
posted by grouse at 1:03 AM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The lawyer wanted me to "compromise" because the ex was going bankrupt and he had a good lawyer who battled on and on about how ex couldn't pay.

One of a lawyer's jobs is to advise clients about settlements. It's impossible for us to know, but your attorney may have assessed the situation and determined that 9000 was the best you were likely to do, given the pending bankruptcy. If you hadn't settled when you did, maybe you could have gotten more but ended up owing her 10 grand to get 10 grand. Or she could just be a crappy lawyer. I have no idea. Regardless, you're focusing a lot on past legal services that she provided to you that aren't relevant to the current legal services she provided to you. You also seem to feel that the unfairness of the original divorce, which didn't involve her at all, has some bearing on the situation. It doesn't. You bought and paid for representation three years ago, and then you bought but don't want to pay for legal sevices now. You are understandably frustrated that you have to pay for these additional legal services, but your settlement with your ex wasn't self-executing. If he didn't comply, someone would have to go back to court to enforce it. You could have tried to do it on your own, but you used a lawyer instead. Your lawyer is in private practice and doesn't work for free, no matter how unfair the original divorce was or how unhappy you are with her prior services.

As to whether she can require you to sign over the interest, have you called your local bar association to ask this question? It should have people who can address your attorney's ethical obligations with regards to this money. You should also read your contract with her closely because it might address this situation.
posted by Mavri at 7:17 AM on August 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


She sent me copies of the bill that she has entered with the court.

Also, this makes it sound like she is petitioning the court to get your ex to pay, but she's covering her bases by trying to get it from you in case she can't get it from him. Although you have an agreement that he will pay your fees, that has evidently not yet been reduced to a money judgment. Until she has a judgment in a dollar amount, she cannot garnish for the fees.
posted by Mavri at 7:31 AM on August 16, 2010


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