6 Ways to Protect Yourself from a Crooked Attorney

I write about unethical, corrupt, and often criminal attorneys, and I currently receive at least one email a week from one of their victims, who are desperate for information and help. It’s difficult to know what to do when you realize that your attorney is working against you.

That’s why it’s now time for a compilation of practical advice for protecting yourself against the small percentage of bad lawyers whose conduct makes the entire profession look like trash.

#1 Trust your gut and fire them

It is terrible advice to tell someone to stick with an abuser, and it is particularly damaging in the context of a lawyer/client relationship.

That’s why I recommend that, whatever your concerns are, don’t sit around waiting for them to magically resolve on their own. Give your attorney one chance to explain their problematic conduct, but fire them if you don’t like or believe their response.

I know this is really hard, especially if you don’t have the money to start over with a new attorney. But what is even harder — and far more expensive — is repairing the damage that a dishonest attorney can cause.

Consider the dozens of victims of now-disbarred Oregon lawyer Megan Perry, many of whom stayed with her for far longer than their guts recommended due to the money which they had invested in her “legal work.” Five years on, few have recovered from the devastation her representation caused — financially or otherwise.

#2 Report crimes to the police, not the state bar

Theft, fraud, evidence tampering, or any other criminal behavior committed by an attorney is not some special variant of crime investigated by the bar. Nope! It’s just regular old crime for the police to sort out.

Don’t let anyone — and I mean anyone — convince you otherwise, especially not the police themselves.

If you believe that you are the victim of an attorney’s crime, go to the police station and make an emphatic report. Do not dither or hem and haw or soft peddle it. Get the officer’s contact information and check in with them until you hear a definitive outcome. Be persistent, but not a nuisance. Get a copy of the police report as soon as the ink is dry, and keep it safe.

#3 Get your client file immediately

The file that your attorney created for your case is not just their property, it is also yours. Even if you owe them money, they must provide you with a copy so that new attorney can protect your immediate legal interests.¹

You want that file straightaway, before it can be fucked with, doctored up, thinned out, sanitized, or otherwise falsified. Give the attorney a hard deadline to comply with.

Importantly, your file should include all the communications your attorney exchanged with your opponent. If those emails are missing from your file, you can be assured it’s not for valid or happy reasons.

And remember: As much as the legal profession would like to pretend otherwise, attorney collusion is very real.

#4 Order a copy of the court’s records

Even if your attorney gave you a copy of “everything” that was entered in your case, there are certainly surprises in store for you in the court’s files.

Don’t waste your money on a certified or exemplified copy just yet: Get a regular paper copy or have it sent electronically (usually for less money than the per-page cost).

As soon as you receive the records, review every single page. I guarantee you’ll discover a motion or order that your attorney never told you about, or things you thought were filed are somehow missing.

If you find anything truly stunning, immediately order a certified copy of that document, before it mysteriously disappears.

#5 Mitigate the damage

Crooked attorneys love to corrupt court proceedings. If there have been bizarre outcomes in the case — say, a judge screaming at you for something that did not actually happen, while your attorney just shrugged — consider your case prejudiced.

Here, knowledge is power: Try to obtain the emails exchanged by court staff and the attorneys in your case. I have found some real doozies that explained a lot of otherwise inexplicable judicial conduct. Use the emails to get a new, unbiased judge, if possible.

Also watch out for motions to withdraw that are poisonous to your interests, or forewarn the attorney that their notice of departure should be boilerplate.

Avoid revealing the name of your new counsel. The second it becomes known, that’s when the old attorney will start trying to poison them. There is no good way to inform a new lawyer about the conduct of their predecessor, except in small doses and only as necessary.

#6 File a bar complaint

Only after your time-sensitive matters are dealt with, bad attorneys should be reported to the bar, in whichever state they practice. Think of it as a public service that you must do for your neighbors.

Complaints can be difficult to write, and can dredge up a lot of upsetting memories about someone you previously trusted.

In my opinion, complaints should be as brief as reasonably possible, but should also bluntly detail the misconduct that occurred. If you made a complaint to the police, attach it; and if your attorney didn’t give you back your file, lead with that.

You never know what the bar’s investigators will zero in on, but they can also always ask for more information. Just do your best, and don’t let the process eat you up. Remember that the truth is on your side.

Bonus tip: Leave an honest review

As satisfying as it is to tell the world about the corrupt motherfucker you just fired, try to keep it brief, factual, professional, and devoid of emotion. The more specific and accurate the review, the harder it will be for the attorney to get it removed from Avvo or Google.

None of this is fun or easy. At every turn you will get pushback from lazy or inept bureaucrats, and easily duped law enforcement.

For instance, a state trooper once stopped her investigation because she couldn’t identify a possible motive for the crime — despite the fact that the crime definitely occurred. In another case, a police officer felt that criminal witness tampering by an attorney was a “bar matter.” Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to overcome such attitudes.

But the bottom line is that you don’t need to know why your attorney worked against you … you just need to know that it did happen, and how to protect your interests after.

¹ Ethics guidelines and statutes regarding the return of client files vary by state. For instance, here is some information from Oregon.

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