A frequently asked question, and an all to frequent occurrence, is a client who is in the middle of a divorce, and has stopped paying attorney’s fees. There are usually two reasons why a client stops payment to the attorney; 1. They simply don’t have the money and can’t afford to pay or 2. They are unhappy with the services provided by the lawyer. Whatever your reasons may be for not paying your divorce lawyer, ultimately the lawyer is going to get really mad at you and will probably drop your case. It is mind boggling when clients get upset when they learn that their attorney is dropping them as a client; lawyers are not indentured servants; lawyers have a right to get paid for what they do; lawyers have bills and obligations, just like you do; staff to pay, rent, taxes, insurance and many other ongoing monthly obligations. If every client treated them like the specific client who stops or refuses to pay, the lawyer would be out of business. Would you go to work every day if your employer informed you that they weren’t going to pay you? The answer is self evident, of course you wouldn’t; so, why do you expect your lawyer to continue working on your case, when you aren’t paying them?
The lawyer can ethically and legally drop your case, as long as it can be done without harm or prejudice to your case. The lawyer is obligated to provide advance notice to you, provide your entire divorce file to you and seek permission of the court to withdraw from the case. You must be provided with advanced written notice of that request and you have a right to appear at the hearing to either consent to the lawyer’s request to withdraw or object if you still want the lawyer to represent you. Assuming you are not within 30 days of a contested trial date or some other major contested pre-trial court hearing, the court most likely will allow the lawyer to step out of the case. Under the statutes, the lawyer is also allowed a judgment for fees to avoid having to file a separate lawsuit to sue a client for fees.
How can you avoid putting yourself into a situation where the lawyer is dropping your case? The obvious answer is to pay your lawyer every month, timely and in full when you receive the bill. If you have gotten to the point where you can’t keep up with bill and can no longer pay the bill in full each month, be honest and call the lawyer to discuss it; don’t just ignore the bill and quit paying, month after month. Most attorneys may be willing to work with you and allow you to make payments over time or may offer a discount off the bill to encourage you to pay.
If you aren’t paying your lawyer because you are unhappy with their services and the issue is unrelated to your ability to afford the lawyer, why do you want to continue to have this attorney to represent you, if you are unhappy with their representation? It is time for you to seek substitute counsel and find an attorney that you have better trust and confidence in. You still are obligated to pay the lawyer for their services, whether you are unhappy with them or not, and again, pursuant to Wisconsin law, the attorney is entitled to a judgment for fees as part of the substitution, to avoid having to start a lawsuit down the road for the collection of what you may owe. So, the answer to the blog question at the top of the page is yes; your lawyer can legally and ethically dismiss you as a client, as long as the lawyer can do so without harm to your case and only with the permission of the trial court, upon prior advance written notice to you.
We are here to answer your questions on lawyer ethics and attorney professionalism. Contact Karp & Iancu, S.C. for a confidential consultation.
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Milwaukee, WI 53226
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