Where do you turn when you have a problem with a Knoxville attorney?
Some problems between lawyers and clients are the result of misunderstandings or a lack of communication. If you believe you have a problem with your lawyer, consider talking it over with the lawyer. The lawyer may be unaware of the problem and, after a discussion, you may be able to come to a mutually acceptable solution.
If the lawyer is unwilling to talk to you, write a letter expressing the problem and ask for a response from your lawyer. If your lawyer does not respond, call their office to ask for an appointment so concerns can be addressed in person. If these steps are not effective, consider hiring another lawyer. Keep in mind that if that occurs before your legal problem is settled, you should expect to pay a portion of the fees to the attorney for time already spent (some fees may not be refundable according to contract). The attorney has an obligation to return your file.
Filing a Complaint Against an Attorney
If you believe your attorney has not acted in your best interest and has thereby done something illegal or unethical, you may wish to file a grievance against your attorney. In Tennessee you may contact the Board of Professional Responsibility at 1-800-486-5714 (www.tbpr.org). The Board of Professional Responsibility created the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) to help people with questions or problems with their Tennessee lawyer. CAP acts as a central intake point for calls and correspondence. Many problems with attorneys can be resolved by providing information, contacting the lawyer, or informally mediating the dispute.
CAP successfully resolves many problems without the filing of a formal complaint, but a matter may be turned over to Disciplinary Counsel for further review if it cannot be resolved in CAP. When serious unethical conduct may be involved, complaints will be referred to Disciplinary Counsel for investigation and possible attorney discipline.
Knoxville Bar Association Fee Dispute Resolution Program
The Knoxville Bar Association has a procedure in place to help clients and attorneys resolve disagreements over legal fees. The Fee Dispute Resolution Committee ("The FDC") exists to provide assistance to both clients and lawyers when a dispute arises regarding attorney's fees and both parties agree to participate in the process. The FDC issues a non-binding decision after an informal hearing before committee members.
From time to time disputes occur between a client and attorney relating to attorneys fees. Ideally, a lawyer and client will reach an agreement about the lawyer's fees before the work is begun, and that agreement will be adequate for the length of the case. If a problem does arise, the Knoxville Bar Association (KBA) Fee Dispute Resolution Committee can help to resolve the fee dispute. The Committee's services extend to all attorneys who practice in Knoxville and the contiguous counties, not just members of the KBA.
The Committee is made up of attorneys and lay persons. The decision of the Committee is non-binding, meaning that neither the KBA, nor the Committee, has the authority to enforce the Committee's decision by legal action.
The services of the Committee are free. Any client may register a fee complaint against his or her attorney. The process of resolving the complaint depends on the cooperation between the client and the attorney. Without cooperation, there is little the Committee can do.
In order to participate, the following standards must be met:
Both parties must agree to participate. Neither can be forced to do so.
Related correspondence, including billing statements, fee agreements and communications should accompany the complaint form.
If there is a complaint currently pending with the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Committee may not be able to assist with the dispute.
When does the Committee dismiss complaints?
When either party does not agree to participate.
When the Committee finds the complaint does not relate to fees. (This frequently occurs when the client is unhappy with the outcome of the case and believes the attorney could have handled it differently).
Once the fee dispute complaint form has been filed with the KBA, a copy of the complaint form and any accompanying materials will be sent to the attorney for a written response. The Committee reviews the written submissions and follows up with the parties with any additional questions. A hearing is not typically held. The fee dispute process from the initiation of the complaint through its review will typically last two to six months. The parties will be notified in writing once the Committee issues an opinion.
The Committee will only consider the matter of fees and not consider any ethical complaints the client has against the attorney. Complaints about an attorney's conduct or possible ethical violations should be filed through the Board of Professional Responsibility of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Other than what has been submitted to the Committee by the attorneys and the client, the Committee does not know the facts of the case. The Committee does not have the authority to second-guess the length of time it took to resolve the matter or the amount of expenses incurred. The Committee will not have sufficient information to reconstruct each action taken by the attorney and the client during the entire period of representation but bases its decision on experience, common sense, the Rules of Professional Conduct, decisions of the courts and ethics opinions.
If you wish to initiate the Knoxville Bar Association Fee Dispute Resolution process, you must first review the policies very carefully. The policies explain the procedures that will be followed in the fee dispute resolution process. If you wish to participate in the Fee Dispute Resolution process, you can complete the complaint form online. There is also an option for you to attach any further documentation (copies of contracts or other supporting paperwork) to your online submission. Once the complaint form is received by the Knoxville Bar Association staff, the matter will be referred to the Chairs of the KBA Fee Dispute Resolution Committee.