You paid an attorney to prepare and file a bankruptcy case. The problem is that months have passed and you are still waiting. Calling doesn’t help. There is either no answer when you call, or no one returns the messages you leave. Can you guess what time it is? If you come to Balena Law Firm, LLC with this scenario, and many do, I’d say it’s time for a new bankruptcy attorney. In Ohio it is incredibly easy to change your attorney. There are a couple of rules you need to know that govern:
- Custody of you file and personal papers
- Refund of legal fee paid
I Want My File Back
Under the rules that all Ohio attorneys are bound to follow, the file is yours, not your attorney’s. You can have it anytime you want it. At one time there was such a thing as an attorney lien for fees. Your lawyer could hold your papers hostage until you paid the fee due to him. No longer. The file and its contents are yours. It is impossible to engage new counsel and have him ready to represent you if you cannot give him the paperwork. You are entitled to your file regardless of whether you owe your former lawyer for work done. If a lawyer tells you anything else, report it to your local bar association immediately.
In the age of paperless practice this will become less of an issue. For example, at Balena Law Firm, LLC we scan all your papers and return them to your possession as soon as possible, often the moment they are scanned. Rarely are we in actual possession of any hard copies of client papers. Most lawyers have not yet taken the step to paperless though.
I Demand a Legal Fee Refund
Getting a refund of the legal fee paid when you decide to change bankruptcy lawyers is a bit more complicated than requesting and picking up a check. The Ohio Supreme Court wants to insure the attorney is paid the value of work performed, and reimbursed for any expenses incurred. They do not want you to pay for time not spent on your case. Nothing more. Balena Law Firm, LLC spells this out in right in the retainer agreement termination cause. It is not a secret.
The attorney must provide you with an itemized statement for actual time spent and expenses incurred. A flat fee agreement suddenly becomes hourly. He is entitled to be paid this money. If the statement shows you paid more that he earned, you get a refund.
If there is a balance due, you owe this. In a bankruptcy setting that will be of little concern because any balance you might owe a former bankruptcy attorney can be discharged as an unsecured debt when you do file your case with your new attorney.
You can change lawyers for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason. You get your file back immediately. A refund of attorney fees and expenses paid is not so simple or fast. There are rules in Ohio about how it is done. It’s not like returning a toaster to Sears. You will have to pay for slices of bread toasted. A good rule of thumb is that the sooner you make the decision to change, the greater the likelihood there may be a legal fee refund.