We think our lawyer, who has been working our case for over two years, may be incompetent, but we find it hard to determine for sure. He seems very compliant in regard to the other side, while being subject to brush-offs and delaying tactics from the other side. Even if he is incompetent, we're not sure what's involved in changing lawyers. Perhaps you can shed some light on this.
Two years ago, my partner and I were going to rent an apartment that was being advertised by the current tenants. They were finding tenants, so they could leave their own lease early. We liked the apartment, signed a new lease with the landlord and handed over the first month's rent, the last month's rent, and a security deposit. This is customary in Somerville, Massachusetts, where the apartment is. This was about a month before we were to move in.
A week later, we were notified by the current tenants that bed bugs had appeared in the apartment a few days before, and they had reported it to the landlord. They said that there had been bed bugs before, but the landlord had it treated, and they thought it was resolved. (I then read that bed bugs are notoriously difficult to exterminate.) The landlord told them that the landlord had no obligation to tell us about this.
I called the landlord and asked for the lease to be cancelled and to give us our money back. He said that there were costs to find a new tenant, and that he would give just an amount that was about the size of the security deposit back.
At this point, we asked for lawyer recommendations. One said he wanted me to check on certain records, and another said we had a good case. We were on friendly terms with the former tenants, so we let them know what was going on, and they said that they had a lawyer who had started on their case against the landlord.
Perhaps unwisely, since we had not locked down a lawyer yet, we agreed to meet this lawyer and retained him as well. We were going to sue for the money we gave the landlord based on deceptive practices
, and the former tenants were going to sue for the damages caused by having to throw everything out because of the bed bugs.
The landlord (a company) wanted to settle, so we went through a couple rounds of ridiculous offers from the landlord. Then, we decided to go to small claims court. About a year and half after the case started, our lawyer told us we had a court date three weeks hence, but that he was going to have it moved because he had prior engagement. I noted that, assuming things would go as he said, then asked for an update two weeks later. Three days after that, he let us know that it was still on. I am not confident that he would have known that had I not nudged him to check.
A couple days after that, it really was continued (moved).
Then, the landlord wanted the cases (ours and the former tenants') combined and moved from small claims court to civil court. Our lawyer seemed to think that was a good idea, so I said, sure, go with what you think is good. In retrospect, this was very accommodating to the landlord, in that it at least caused another delay. Also, it's weird that they'd want that if it would make our case stronger.
About 1.5 years after the case started, our lawyer made a request for production to start discovery. Of course, in response, the landlord's lawyer wanted to open up settlement talks again. We heard them out; they were bullshit, and almost exactly the same as last time. I have no reason to believe they were made in good faith.
At about the 2-year mark, there was a hearing, and our lawyer showed up, but the landlord's lawyer did not, so they were defaulted. Our lawyer worked with them to remove the default judgment because he felt they could easily remove it themselves anyway. However, he said it would give us leverage in settlements. However, if that were the case, shouldn't we have negotiated before removing the default? Something wasn't right there.
And so, the landlord said he really wanted to resolve this and would make a good offer. Of course, it was bullshit.
- Our lawyer seems overly accommodating to the other side. I understand that being a "tough" lawyer isn't a matter of being a dick, but it seems like he's being lead by the opposition.
- He doesn't seem to be on top of things. We always have to badger him for updates. I understand he's working off of contingency, which may not be that motivating, but is this really the what we should expect?
And if our lawyer is incompetent, is it worth changing lawyers at the point? Are we going to lose anything by doing this? Will document transfer between him and the new lawyer go smoothly? Should we part ways with the former tenants, who as far as we can tell, are trustworthy? Any other advice for finally getting our money back?