Today I decided to do a Google search for trending legal malpractice news, and a wealth of information was presented. My choices included links to legal malpractice attorneys in Texas, high profile malpractice lawsuits, malpractice insurance companies, and State Bar websites. There was no shortage of information on the topic and I learned of some substantial awards paid out to individuals and businesses. Although there was a shortage of information on the reality of attorney negligence for the average consumer, I was able to find one snippet of information that stood out. It was a Texas Lawyer article, and the format was a legal malpractice roundtable session moderated by Mike Androvett of Androvett Legal & Media, a distinguished Public Relations and Marketing firm in Texas. In particular, the following excerpt caught my attention, and is the focus of my blog article:
“I get lots of calls of people taking retainers and not doing the work or not giving the retainer back at the end of the lawsuit. And it’s usually somebody for 5- or 10,000 dollars that hurts them worse than somebody with a major malpractice lawsuit, but you can’t take those cases when you’ve got to go hire an expert to go to trial to get a contingent fee for a $10,000 case? You can’t do that. And it’s really disappointing. You would be shocked at the number of those kinds of calls that I get.” David Shuford – Legal Malpractice Attorney in Texas
Included was a panel of seasoned legal malpractice attorneys in Texas consisting of David W. Shuford, Darrell L. Keith, Jim E. Pennington, and Doug Perrin. Having first-hand experience with these types “of calls” mentioned by David Shuford, a legal malpractice attorney in Texas, and knowing many others who have walked in my shoes, I decided to be a lone voice for the common man.
My story should be somewhat evident from the title of my eBook, Dispute It – A Layman’s Guide on How to Get an Attorney Refund & File a Bar Grievance. My eBook is not only a guide to help others, but it is also a personal account of my struggles with negligent attorneys. As I state in chapter two of Dispute It, an adverse outcome for a consumers case is not always the fault of their attorney. Legal matters are complicated, and I have been the recipient of things not going my way in court when it was not the fault of the attorney. However, for those situations that do involve attorney misconduct, the average consumer if often faced with limited options.
The Reality of a Legal Malpractice Suit
When faced with the egregious actions of my attorney, every fiber in my body wanted to fire her and find a new a new attorney. However, it was not a simple decision. My wife and I had already made a significant investment to hire this highly recommended “tiger” of an attorney, so there was not a surplus of funds available to replace her. Moreover, since she never provided a detailed billing statement after three requests, I had no visibility into my retainer balance to know if a refund was remotely possible. I had no other option but to stay the course and hope for the best. However, things only got worse, and I thought for sure that I had a legal malpractice suit on my hands. I documented everything, and when the case was finished, I consulted with legal malpractice attorneys in Texas. I learned very quickly that my case was not big enough for a legal malpractice lawsuit since it did not involve $100,000 in real damages. Most legal malpractice attorneys work on a contingency basis and prefer the more significant cases. I then moved to civil attorneys with legal malpractice experience, and plenty was willing to take my case. However, they required a retainer equal to or more than what I hoped to recoup in fees. Very quickly, the door was closed for any chance of a legal malpractice lawsuit. In retrospect, I think that my story is the story for many average consumers who are trying to recover a few thousand dollars. Consumers cannot justify the means to recover fees or damages, so they suffer both final and legal losses.
The Reality of the State Bar Grievance Process
Providing that consumers are not seeking damages but a refund of the fees they paid their attorney, filing a grievance against their attorney is an option. However, the chance of success is meager. Using my home state of Texas as an example, although all state bars grievance statistics are very similar, the State Bar of Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline Annual Report from June 1, 2015 thru May 31, 2016, numbers tell a compelling story which I have captured in the following chart:
At the time of this writing, the 2015 – 2016 report was replaced with the State Bar of Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline Annual Report from June 1, 2016 thru May 31, 2017. However, I elected to use last year’s report since it is a bit more telling on the total number of grievances filed in a State Bar year. As illustrated in the pie chart above, there were 7,760 grievances recorded in one year for the state of Texas but only 328 disciplinary sanctions. That represents a 4% chance of the average grievance filer having a sanction leveled against their attorney. I am sure that there are many valid reasons why some grievances would not be upgraded, but 96% is an alarming fallout rate. I will save my commentary for a later blog posting where I speculate on what I think are the reasons, but for now, I will just make my point that the chances of success for the average consumer are not good.
I will close on a positive note and say that my eBook, Dispute It – A Layman’s Guide on How to Get an Attorney Refund & File a Bar Grievance, can help individuals improve their chances with the State Bar, and provides options. Dispute It offers a hybrid approach that encourages readers to leverage Avvo’s Legal Malpractice & Negligence or Ethics & Professional Responsibility attorneys but to do so with minimal spend for the right situations. Avvo has the absolute best attorney directory and offers some very affordable introductory consultation packages. You can even ask free questions if you are seeking a legal malpractice attorney in Texas or any other state.
Kenneth R. Gilley is the President of Kenneth R. Gilley & Co., LLC, a small digital marketing company. He is the author of the e-book, Dispute It – A Layman’s Guide on How to Get an Attorney Refund & File a Bar Grievance, and regularly contributes to his blog, MyLegalLessons.com. Ken holds a B.S. in Marketing from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA, and lives in The Woodlands, TX.