Attorney work product

I hired a jackass lawyer to represent my mother in law in a probate matter and he’s been dodging my calls for far too long, has never produced a statement of what he’s drawn from the retainer and to the best of my knowledge has filed nothing with any court.

Just how much of the file is the client entitled to? Seems I’m going to have write him a demand letter with a CC to the bar to get his attention. Would like to get my ducks in a row before I fire a shot across his bow.

I’m not your lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, blah blah blah.

I realize that you’re the one paying the bill, but you’re not the client; your mother-in-law is. The lawyer owes a duty to her, not to you, and he doesn’t have to jump when you snap your fingers. If you want information from him, the request should come from her.

OK, I’ll now point out that my MIL has authorized the release of the information (and has made numerous requests of her own in this regard without response). So let’s say for the sake of this GQ that the request is coming directly from the client.

So, that minor technicality aside, how much of the file is the client entitled to?

All of it, generally.

ETA: I see you’re in California, so drop the “generally” part:

Here’s some handy-dandy information from the California Bar if you are considering terminating him or filing a complaint.

The answer may vary by state, but in general, clients are entitled to the whole file. See this page for some discussion of case law.

You have no contract with this atty.? You should have some written agreement, specifying what work is to be done, time of completion, compensation, etc.
Otherwise, verbal agreements can be a problem.

He’s on a retainer, so there will certainly be a written retainer agreement. As a general matter, though, lack of a written agreement is a problem for the attorney, not for the client.

It will ultimately depend on where the probate matter is. In my state, per Rule 1.16(e) , the client is entitled to the whole file.

However, if you aren’t the client, he can’t talk to you about the matter absent permission from the client. I would consider it good practice to have something in writing signed by the client permitting the attorney to speak about things with a third party, especially because that may ultimately waive and destroy privilege. I believe that the standard for protecting work product is higher, but it varies from state to state.

ahem Strictly speaking, the work product doctrine is not a privilege. It functions like one and is often referred to as one, but it’s not one.

I would say that this is generally true. It is most often referred to as the work product doctrine, although most laymen and even some attorneys may refer to work product privilege. My reference to privilege was referring to the attorney client privilege, which is more easily waived than the work product doctrine. Generally, it is easier to waive the attorney client privilege as opposed to the protections surrounding the work product doctrine. That being said, I’ve found most attorneys are a bit fuzzy on the whole thing and prefer to err on the side of caution.

Oh, I see. I parsed your post incorrectly.

Thanks guys. To complicate matters, I am in California, but the lawyer is in Texas and the probate matter is also in Texas. I’m thinking I’m going to seek the assistance of the bar. My mother in law is pretty naive and from what it sounds like she’s been getting shined on by this guy for a long time. I did write the attorney a letter when I sent him the retainer in order to formalize the arrangement but he never did write back to me… but he sure was quick about cashing the check.

If he is in Texas, you need to speak to the State Bar of Texas. If you don’t like the guy, you may want to speak to another attorney there, and make sure that you understand how things are going to move and how long it will take before you formalize any kind of agreement.

Same info for Texas.

Well then, time to write a letter! Thanks!

You’re clearly going to need another lawyer for your mother-in-law. I would suggest that that lawyer’s first task should be to write a letter demanding return of the files and retainer. If you start with the bar association, I suspect that things could get bogged down for a while.

It may be harder to get the retainer back than to get the files. The lawyer will probably argue that he is entitled to the retainer, or at least part of it, on a “quantum meruit” basis (i.e., for the work performed).