Answer: We find that many complaints are a result of communication problems or misunderstandings. Most of these can be resolved by effective communication between attorney and client. In the event your attorney is not returning your phone calls or addressing your concerns, we encourage you to contact your attorney in writing, keep a copy of your letter and send it certified mail return receipt requested. If the matter is time sensitive, you may fax or email your letter and then mail the original, again keeping a copy for your records.

The letter to your attorney should be polite and professional. The letter should let your attorney know what your "questions" or "concerns" are. Examples of this would be: "I would like to know...", "I don't understand...", "Please explain...", "When do you anticipate...", "I have questions about my case"; (then list your questions).

We find that written communication is very effective in resolving matters for a variety of reasons: it allows you to express all of your concerns completely, without interruption or distraction; it prevents many misunderstandings as to what is being requested or promised; and it provides documentation, so that you can follow up if needed.

If your attorney does not respond to your letter within 10 days or does not respond completely, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) if you would like us to follow up with a letter of concern to your attorney. Most likely we will ask you to fax or email a copy of your letter to the attention of the Consumer Assistance Program for review. Most attorneys respond after receiving our letter, but occasionally, a "second request" is needed.

Answer: Fee matters are not ordinarily a basis for discipline of a lawyer because they usually do not involve questions of ethical or professional misconduct. In some cases they do, however, and in those cases where the attorney is found at fault discipline will follow.

Some fee disputes may be the result of an overcharge by the attorney. Others, however, result from a lack of understanding by the client of the basis for the fee and the factors that go into the charge made by a lawyer for services. The lawyer may be at fault because of a failure to make the client aware of what is involved. Clients are often reluctant or embarrassed to discuss fees with their lawyers. They should not be.

Where the parties are not able to reach an understanding and there is a controversy over fees, the matters, like any other dispute over the value of services, may be resolved by court action.

As an alternative action, the Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Bristol, Kingsport, Montgomery County and Washington County Bar Associations have Fee Dispute Committees which are prepared to consider complaints concerning alleged excessive fees and have established procedures which frequently lead to a resolution of the dispute. The complaints in these cases should be submitted directly to the appropriate bar association.

If you feel your attorney has overcharged you for services, we encourage you to review the fee agreement (if one was signed) and check to see if the fee was a flat fee or non-refundable. If not, ask your attorney for an itemized bill to see what work was done. You may also request a copy of your file. If the charges seem to be for unnecessary work or work that was not done, then you should write or meet with your lawyer to work out the fee dispute. If you're still unable to work out the matter with your attorney, you may contact your local fee dispute committee. A list of fee dispute committees is provided below.

Fee Dispute Mediation is a not a service that all Bar Associations provide, and varies from county to county. Many counties do not offer fee mediation. In such a case, you may wish to seek legal advice as to your options for filing suit for breach of contract for services not rendered.

Bristol Tennessee Bar Association 
J. Paul Frye, Fee Dispute Chairman
P.O. Box 220
Piney Flats, TN 37686
(423) 538-4606

Chattanooga Bar Association
The Pioneer Building
Suite 420
801 Broad Street
Chattanooga, TN 37402
(423) 756-3222

Washington County Fee Dispute Committee 
Christy McInturff Huret, Fee Dispute Chairperson
801 Sunset Drive E-2
Johnson City, TN 37604-3033

Kingsport Bar Association Fee Dispute Resolution Committee 
Curt Rose – Committee Chair
P.O. Box 1404
Kingsport, TN 37662
(423) 246-8176

Knoxville Bar Association
P.O. Box 2027
Knoxville, TN 37901
(865) 522-6522

Memphis Bar Association
Charlotte Gean
80 Monroe Avenue, Suite 220
Memphis, TN 38103
(901) 527-3573

Nashville Bar Association
Serving Davidson and Williamson Counties Vicki Shoulders
150 4th Avenue North, Suite 1050
Nashville, TN 37219
(615) 242-9272

Kingsport Bar Association Fee Dispute Resolution Committee
Curt Rose, Committee Chair
PO Box 1404
Kingsport, TN 37662
(423) 246-8176

Montgomery County Bar Association Fee Dispute Process
Montgomery County Court Center
2 Millennium Plaza, Suite 102
Clarksville, TN 37040

Answer: Such behavior is unprofessional, but it does not generally violate the ethical rules that govern lawyers. CAP may contact the lawyer to let them know that their behavior was discourteous.
Answer: Unless the lawyer makes a willful misrepresentation of fact or law, this is not an ethical violation. However, if it can be shown from the transcript and other documents that the lawyer lied in court, a complaint should be filed. If the matter is still pending in court, then sanctions should be sought from the court against the lawyer.
Answer: If there are any funds in dispute (legal fees or medical liens on the recovery) this may cause delay. If the client doesn't understand the process, CAP contacts the lawyer for answers.
Answer: The client should examine the settlement statement. Was the lawyer to pay certain bills or to disburse all the money to the client? Many times there is a lien which requires payment from a settlement. If there was a misunderstanding, CAP tries to improve lawyer-client communications.
Answer: The Board of Professional Responsibility and CAP cannot recommend or appoint a lawyer, but local bar associations and/or lawyer referral services are available as a resource. If the client cannot afford a civil attorney, CAP can refer the client to Legal Aid organizations where low-cost or free legal assistance may be possible. Indigent criminal defendants must ask the court to appoint an attorney.
Answer: First, call for an appointment with the lawyer to try to work things out. If that fails, write a discharge letter requesting return of the file, any client property or unearned fee, and an itemized bill. Note that in certain types of cases, usually contingency fee cases, the lawyer may put a lien against the proceeds of the settlement. Generally, lawyers must return any unearned fee when they are discharged or withdraw. A possible exception to this is a non-refundable fee agreement. Ask for an itemized bill and return of the unearned fee when dismissing the lawyer.
Answer: Yes, most of the time. A lawyer must take steps to be sure withdrawal does not hurt the client's case. The lawyer must generally get permission from the court to withdraw from a filed case
Answer: CAP asks the client to send their request to the lawyer in writing. If this request is not successful, CAP can contact the lawyer about the file.
Answer: A creditor's attorney is allowed to be a zealous advocate, but may not harass a debtor. Get legal advice on how to respond to the demand for payment, particularly if you dispute the amount owed. Learn about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and steps to make bill collectors stop harassment. Violations of that law can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.
Answer: Only civil courts can give a judgment for legal malpractice and award damages. You should promptly seek legal advice or use a lawyer referral service as a resource since you have a limited time (statute of limitations) to file a legal malpractice lawsuit for damages.