What do you do when your attorney disappears?
March 9, 2012 9:24 PM Subscribe
Bankruptcy Attorney appears to have fallen off the grid. What are my options?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(Apologies for the length, wanted to give as much detail as possible)
In mid-2011 my wife and I signed a retainer agreement with an attorney in my city to handle a personal bankruptcy filing. I never actually met the attorney, this was all handled through a law clerk at the firm.
The retainer fee was $1500, with $300 due up front and the remainder to be paid in progress payments of $300 each until the retainer was paid in full. There was also a filing fee (that we haven't paid yet) that goes to the court for actually filing the bankruptcy once we are ready to "push the button".
This past weekend I sent an email to my contact at the law firm (the law clerk) letting her know we were ready to set up an appointment to turn in our paperwork, pay our filing fee and meet with the attorney.
I received a response back on Monday stating that our attorney of record had left the office and taken our file with her (our attorney of record was copied on this email via a yahoo email account). I sent our attorney an additional email confirming that I wanted to meet for the aforementioned reasons. I also tried calling both her cell #and office # and received on both a "This mailbox is full and cannot receive messages".
After numerous attempts to reach this attorney via every possible source (emails to two different addresses, text message to her cell, one phone message when we were actually able to get through) I called the office where we originally set up our agreement to get a better idea of what was going on. I spoke to the original law clerk who we had dealt with, who informed me that at the end of January this attorney (who owned the firm) had fired all of the staff, taken all of her files and decided to work solo (the only reason the office was still running was because some of the attorneys who had worked for her decided to stay in business on their own).
On Tuesday evening I finally received a response via text message from our attorney stating that if I was comfortable mailing my information to her I could sent it to (address) or we could set up an appointment to meet in person. No more than 5 minutes later I responded back letting her know that I would be in the area of her new office the following day and could meet if she was available or, if not, we could set up an additional time (no response back). (I didn't want to just send in the mail because she the lack or responsiveness had already made me nervous and was afraid I might never see this very sensitive information again if I had just sent through the mail)
Throughout the rest of the week, I made numerous additional attempts to reach our attorney via phone (most of the time getting "this mailbox is full, etc" messages, but leaving at least 3 additional voicemails - so she is around to at least occasionally clear out her messages), numerous text messages and emails to no response whatsoever.
Today I stopped by the address she gave me as her "office" and noted another attorney's name was on the door. The secretary told me this technically wasn't my attorney's office, but she occasionally used it to meet with clients. After this, I sent the attorney a terse text message (her voicemail was back in "this mailbox is full" mode) stating that her unresponsiveness was getting to be a grave concern due to the urgency of our legal needs and amount of money I have paid for her services and to respond to me by end of day. As you can probably guess, she didn't.
What are my options here? Obviously at this point I would like my $1500 retainer returned (having not received our paperwork yet, she has not done any work on our behalf) so we can proceed with a lawyer who has adequate time to handle our case. How do you go after a lawyer who appears to be off the map? How difficult is it to get your money back from an attorney for this sort of non-performance (our contract states that our retainer free is non-refundable, but is this enforceable if we can prove that literally zero work has been performed on our behalf, especially considering the contract also states that the attorney will "...keep client informed of progress and to respond to client's inquiries" (wouldn't leaving your firm without telling us despite having an open case and being non-responsive to attempts to contact her be a breach?) How do you get your money back from someone who appears to be off the map? Better Business Bureau? State Bar? Small claims? We feel extremely helpless and, frankly, being in the position to file BK, we aren't exactly in the best financial situation to fight this or let this drag on.
For the record, I'm in California. Throwaway email email@example.com