If you have a dispute with your lawyer, the first thing to do is to talk to him or her. Prearranged meetings in person are better than telephone conversations. Explain your problem and listen to what your lawyer says. Most often, open communication can resolve the problem.
No matter how carefully you choose a lawyer, there is a possibility that you chose the wrong one. If the problem doesn’t clear up, you can change lawyers, but changing is not as easy as hiring the first lawyer.
Every state has some type of grievance process. In New Jersey, you have the option of reporting your attorney to the Ethics Committee if you feel that your lawyer did something egregious. An ethics complaint is a very serious charge against an attorney, so you should not file one over a minor disagreement. An Ethics Committee complaint can result in a lawyer being disbarred and their license to practice law revoked.
Most states also have a process to dispute your lawyer’s fees. In New Jersey, you can file an application for Fee Arbitration in the county where the attorney practices. The Fee Arbitration Committee is usually composed of two lawyers and one member of the public. They will decide, after hearing from you and your lawyer and reviewing all legal bills, the proper amount of legal fees that your lawyer should have charged.
Ann O’Flanagan is an attorney who handles family law exclusively in Flanders, New Jersey.