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Types of Assistance

  • Communication Problems

    "The lawyer won't return my calls," or "I don't know what's happening in my case."
    CAP first recommends that the client write their attorney, keep a copy and send it certified. If the lawyer does not respond, CAP will intervene. As well, CAP may send clients suggestions on "Handling Communication Problems".

  • Billing / Fee Disputes

    "I disagree with my lawyer’s bill."
    The client should study any fee agreement, examine the time the lawyer has billed, and look at the file to see what work was done. If the charges are for unnecessary work or work that was not done, the client first should write or meet with the lawyer to work out the dispute. Also, CAP has a list of fee dispute committees for the metropolitan areas which can mediate fee matters.

  • Lawyer Personal Behavior

    "A lawyer was rude to me!"
    Such behavior is unprofessional, but it does not generally violate the ethical rules that govern lawyers. CAP may contact the lawyer to let them know that their behavior was discourteous.

    "The opposing lawyer said terrible things about me in divorce court!"
    Unless the lawyer makes a willful misrepresentation of fact or law, this is not an ethical violation. However, if it can be shown from the transcript and other documents that the lawyer lied in court, a complaint should be filed. If the matter is still pending in court, then sanctions should be sought from the court against the lawyer.

    "My lawyer appears to have a drug or alcohol problem."
    The client may contact the Tennessee Lawyer Assistance Program (TLAP) toll-free at (877)424-8527, for information. If the behavior is affecting the attorney’s legal skills, CAP should be contacted also.

    "I know a lawyer is engaged in illegal activity."
    Personal knowledge of such activity, should be reported to the appropriate authorities. If a court has found the lawyer guilty of a crime, then a complaint should be filed.

  • Case Settlements

    "The lawyer got my settlement funds months ago and I still don’t have any money."
    If there are any funds in dispute (legal fees or medical liens on the recovery) this may cause delay. If the client doesn’t understand the process, CAP contacts the lawyer for answers.

    "The lawyer didn't pay my medical bills in a personal injury case."
    The client should examine the settlement statement. Was the lawyer is to pay certain bills or to disburse all the money to the client? Many times there is a lien which requires payment from a settlement. If there was a misunderstanding, CAP tries to improve lawyer-client communications.

    "The lawyer settled my case without telling me."
    If that really happened, CAP sends a complaint form to the client. In some cases, the client signed a release or the check, then wanted to renege on the settlement. CAP will ask the client about what they may have signed or what they told the lawyer when told of the offer.

    "A settlement check on a lawyer's trust account bounced."
    A complaint form should be filed and the client should get legal advice about how to recover the funds. CAP may refer the client to the Tennessee Lawyer's Fund for Client Protection (615-741-3097) to file a claim for lost funds if due to dishonest conduct by an attorney. In addition, discipline may be imposed for ethics violations.

  • Retaining (Hiring) an Attorney

    "I need to find an attorney."
    CAP cannot recommend or appoint a lawyer, but suggests calling the local bar association or lawyer referral service. If the client cannot afford a civil attorney, CAP can refer the client to Legal Aid organizations, where low-cost or free legal assistance may be possible. Indigent criminal defendants must ask the court to appoint an attorney.
    CAP encourages the client to obtain a written fee agreement so there is no misunderstanding of work to be done, or the fee is to be charged, or how it is to be paid. Agreements for contingency fees or non-refundable fees must be in writing.

  • Dismissing (Firing) an Attorney

    "I want to fire my attorney."
    First call for an appointment with the lawyer to try to work things out. If that fails, write a discharge letter requesting return of the file, any client property or unearned fee, and an itemized bill.
    Note, that in certain types of cases, usually contingency fee cases, the lawyer may put a lien against the proceeds of the settlement.

    "I’m afraid to fire my lawyer because I paid a fee up front."
    Generally lawyers must return any unearned fee when they are discharged or withdraw. A possible exception to this is a non-refundable fee agreement. Ask for an itemized bill and return of the unearned fee when dismissing the lawyer.

    "Can my lawyer withdraw from the case?"
    Yes, most of the time. A lawyer must take steps to be sure withdrawal does not hurt the client’s case. The lawyer must generally get permission from the court to withdraw from a filed case.

    "My former lawyer won't release the file."
    CAP asks the client to send their request to the lawyer in writing. If this request is not successful, CAP can contact the lawyer about the file.

  • Debtor / Creditor Problems

    "A lawyer who represents a creditor is pestering me to pay up."
    A creditor’s attorney is allowed to be a zealous advocate, but may not harass a debtor. Get legal advice on how to respond to the demand for payment, particularly if you dispute about the amount owed. Learn about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and steps to make bill collectors stop harassment. Violations of that law can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

  • Lawyer Neglect / Incompetence

    "I want to sue my lawyer for malpractice."
    Only civil courts can give a judgment for legal malpractice and award damages. Therefore, you should promptly seek legal advice or use a referral service to obtain names of lawyers who handle such cases. CAP keeps a list of such referral services.
    Board procedures for ethics violations do not recover money damages. However, you may use a complaint form to report the attorney for disciplinary purposes. You have a limited time (statute of limitations) to file a legal malpractice lawsuit for damages.

CAP Information

File a Request
You may complete a Request for Assistance and return it to:

Consumer Assistance Program
Board of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court of Tennessee
10 Cadillac Drive, Suite 220
Brentwood, TN, 37027

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