When a lawyer’s fee is four times higher than quoted

© 2014 Richard Montgomery

Reader Question: Monty, recently you advised readers how to choose a real estate lawyer. It came too late for me. My attorney initially said his fee to settle a property dispute was $15,000. Three years, $75,000 and many mishandled opportunities later, he acts like he is doing me a favor by advising me to settle for what I could have settled for before I hired him. I would appreciate any advice. Evelyn G.

Monty’s Answer: Hello Evelyn, and thank you for your question. It is not possible for me to comment on the merits of your complaint, nor the merits (or lack thereof) of the attorney’s counsel. Every state has a venue for attorney complaints. Every state handles them differently. First seek to learn how your state handles attorney complaints.

Begin here

You can do a search on the Internet to discover the sources. A search term such as “<your state> attorney grievance ” or “ attorney complaint ” should result in useful information links. Once you learn the process, there is an office, or person that you can contact for clarifications or questions. Most professions are aware they have practitioners that should not be practicing, or that need additional education and they see a legitimate complaint as an opportunity to correct a shortcoming.

To prepare for a discussion or discussions regarding the merits, put together a one-page white paper that documents what happened. When doing this, be sure to have supporting documentation, more than your word against his word. Letters, emails, billings and more would be helpful records to back your allegations.

Listen carefully to the people who handle complaints. If they discourage you, seek to understand why they are discouraging you. May they see missteps on your part? Do they recognize complications that arose after the original dispute estimate? If your attorney sent you a revised estimate, he might have a good defense. This conversation is speculation, as this writer knows nothing of the circumstances.

A typical consumer myth with most professions is that a complaint ” falls on deaf ears ” because, as peers, they all look out for each other. While that could happen, experience suggests that a legitimate complaint will work wonders.

Do compare attorneys

Another option is to seek an opinion from a different attorney. The second attorney may also have an opinion about making a formal complaint to the State, The State Bar Association or the State Judicial System as one of these groups likely plays a role in attorney complaints.

If you choose this option, consider taking these steps to reduce the chances for a repeat:

Talk to people you may know who work in fields that put them in contact with real estate attorneys. Examples could include real estate agents, title or mortgage company workers or a business owner.

When you have three or more leads (you may get turndowns), call and tell them you need legal advice and they were recommended. Ask them if they will look at a real estate dispute where another attorney was involved, and you believe it was handled poorly. If they say, ” yes,” ask if you can email a description of the situation with some questions for them. Use the one page “ white paper ” discussed earlier. Email is the best, because they have time to see your circumstances and consider the questions, and you will have their answers in writing.

This same advice is relevant to many consumers with an unfair treatment complaint. For example, the real estate industry also has a ” higher power ” looking to improve practices. Many business sectors have similar investigation and compliance mechanisms in place, particularly when a state-issued operating license is required for the business in question.

Try to settle

Once you better understand the playing field, and you are going to go ahead, consider a discussion with the original attorney if he is not aware of your feelings. Have you shared your feelings with him? How did you let it get this far? These questions are important because you need to prepare to answer them if you pick up the sword. If you can show him where he went wrong, he may be willing to “make it right.” He also may do this to avoid the time and potential embarrassment of taking this up with his peers.

If he has done nothing wrong, and your arguments are faulty, it will be difficult to muster support from any quarter.​