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These past two weeks I have been contacted by four people who have been or are being scammed by their family lawyers.

In Case One, the lawyer didn't sign an engagement letter with the client and said that he didn't need to be paid a retainer. He quoted his rate at $150 per hour, which sounds very reasonable. He picked the case up when it was set for a hearing. He attended the hearing for three hours, settled the case for far less than he should have, never sent the client an itemized bill, and then tried to collect $5,000 from her meager $25,000 settlement that should have been at least three times that amount. The settlement check was placed by the attorney in his escrow account where he held it hostage to try to obtain the $5,000 for himself. Via phone call, I negotiated the fee to $1,500.

In Case Two the client went to one of the well-known Pittsburgh family law firms and met with the $300/hour partner who promised her everything she wanted and told her that his lower-priced associate would be doing her work to control her fees. Now she is being charged for both attorneys' time for meeting and consulting with each other and appearing at meetings and hearings together. The lower-priced and inexperienced associate cannot negotiate with the other lawyer without getting intimidated and having her hands shake. The client had interviewed me and now wants me to step in to handle her case but it is too far gone. She went to a "big" family law firm because someone told her to. The heartless young associate is getting testy with her and told her that she could live in a flat in Bellevue, although now living in a $600,000 residence. The senior partner claims that he never told her that he could get her what she was asking for. This dog and pony show has hurt three cases that came to me to clean up the blood or fix the outcome. I can't perform miracles. You would be shocked because the senior lawyer has been rated as a SuperLawyer.

Case Three was ready for trial and at the time, the client owed his attorney $7,000 and was getting frightened of the mounting legal bills. He spoke with another associate at one of the big family law firms who offered to take the case to trial without asking for a retainer and at a lower hourly rate. The client switched, the lawyer settled the case for far less than prior counsel was asking, and gave the client a bill for $20,000 afterward.

Don't pick a firm because of its reputation 15 years ago. The old firms now have new associates, who in my experience, are not the super lawyers of the past. I have seen these firms negotiate bad settlements for clients. However, they do collect their fees.

  • Remember it is always easier to settle a case quickly for less than it is worth.

  • It is always easy to promise a client anything they want for settlement.

  • It is always easy for a lawyer to agree to take a case without a retainer when it is scheduled to go to trial. (They know they will get paid shortly).

  • You should always get itemized statements and an engagement letter that you can easily understand.

  • YOU MUST TRUST YOUR LAWYER. View their website. Try to get to know what kind of person they are.