What To Do When You're Frustrated With Your Attorney

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By Keri Kettle, Contributor - December 06, 2013 - Updated July 04, 2016
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Question:

My attorney, I'm on the 2nd one, doesn't seem motivated to pursue my ex for any and all past due bills or to find any compensation for me. 

I was mentally, psychologically, and financially abused.  The guy just plain used me until I stood up for myself and went through a program.  

I could have been given spousal support. I could be divorced by now. My bills are running late and my work is in slow season. 

My life is the same as being married except I don't have the pleasure of his complaints and dirty dishes and laundry. 

 I'm frustrated and worried. 

ANSWER:

First, I want to congratulate you on getting out of an abusive marriage and for no longer being the housemaid to a mean ol' turd.  Joking aside, it is never easy to stand up to an abuser and you must be incredibly strong to have made it out.  Let's take a moment and do a happy dance to your freedom and to being safe from harm.

Second, an attorney's schedule can easily get overcome by emergencies and deadlines.  You know the saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the oil"?  Well, it's time to get squeaky, girl.  Here's your action plan to light a fire under your attorney and start getting those bills taken care of:

1.  SET A MEETING:  Be flexible about coming in, if you're told that your attorney can't see you until next week, offer to come in before or after court hours so that you can get in sooner.  Tell your attorney exactly what you want - be VERY specific, if you just say "get me compensation", that's vague and, as an attorney myself, I'm not sure what you are asking for.  Saying,  "How can I get a support check in my bank account within the next 30-60 days?" is much more clear and specific about what you want and how soon you expect it to happen.  If you don't know what you are entitled to or how long something should take, ask your attorney to go through your options, take notes and then let the attorney know exactly which of the options you want to go after.

2.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK:  Ask your attorney EXACTLY what the court needs in terms of evidence (invoices, receipts, cancelled checks, etc.) to prove your claims and get paid.  Many times, clients haven't yet provided all of the necessary documents and your attorney may not want to waste time or your money going after a claim that he/she doesn't have enough evidence to support.  Since you say your work is in the slow season, this is the perfect time for you to be your own investigator - run your credit to see what debts appear, gather all of the credit card statements and other bills that you can - and figure out exactly how much those past due bills are, get copies of all the records the court will require. 

Once you've gathered the information, organize it - it doesn't have to be perfectly typed up, but it should be easy to see what each claim is, with all of the supporting documents attached and neatly labelled.  Ask a friend to look at it and, without explaining, see if they can follow your claim and paper trail.  Your attorney is probably working on multiple cases in the course of a day, if it's easy to tell at a glance what the claims are and that all of the back-up documents are in hand, it's more likely to get done before a task that will require slogging through unidentified papers and illegible notes.  Make YOUR case the easiest thing on your attorney's desk to get done.  Don't forget to keep a copy of what you gave to your attorney!  That way, if there is a question, it can be handled with a quick phone call instead of having to find time in their schedule for you to come in and look over the documents in person. 

3.  FOLLOW UP:  If your attorney tells you that it will take two weeks to get a request for spousal support filed, call back in two weeks and confirm that it happened.  If it didn't, keep calling until it does.  If you hand over a list of claims, ask how long they need to review it and then call or e-mail to confirm that your attorney has everything they need to pursue it in court.  Keep asking for time estimates and keep following-up until your case is concluded.

4.  BE A PLEASANT PEST:  I'm encouraging you to be a bit of a pain by sending your attorney lists and calling to check up on progress - be sure to be kind to staff, to make your calls polite and inquiring, instead of angry and demanding.  Humans naturally are attracted to people that are nice to them and I know my staff pesters me to respond to clients that are pleasant before the ones that are rude and insulting.

 As much as we would like to just hand over our case to someone and be done, we need to be our own advocate.  Just as no one could get you out of that difficult marriage without a lot of hard work on your part, you need to stay on top of your divorce to get it done.

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