The Devil's Advocate
Legal Fee Management & Litigation Consulting


Our 22nd Year  
Thanks to all our clients and friends  





Questions About Lawyers?

    Lawyers are some of our best friends -- hey, some of us are lawyers.  And there are great lawyers plus many, many lawyers who are pretty good, especially if you get the right one.  But we get lots of calls and emails from clients and other civilians complaining about lawyers, or at least confused and asking more questions than we can answer.  We cannot help everyone with a lawyer-problem or question, so here are some general suggestions and resources.  Our navigation bar also has links with "Free (or Cheap) Help.

    We also have other publications available on this website or elsewhere that might help.  Some are free, like our Client-Friendly Billing Agreement and the Client's Bill of Rights, and others are cheap, like our Civilian's Guide to Lawyers series.  You can also visit our free blog:


Two E-Books for Clients & Lawyers
by John Toothman
Available online as
e-books for the Amazon Kindle.  (Nook editions also available)





The Client Bill of Rights:  Based on our original Client Bill of RightsIncludes the ten rights all clients have and all lawyers should respect.  ($2.99; 7700 words)





The Civilian's Guide to Lawyers:  How to Hire a Lawyer:  The first of three volumes to assist clients to hire, manage, and fire the right lawyer or, if they cannot find an affordable, cost-effective lawyer, to help themselves.  (Vol. 1 $9.90; 47,000 words)  (Vol. 2: How to Fire a Lawyer; Vol. 3: How to Live Without a Lawyer coming soon)


    Unfortunately we are inundated with more questions and complaints about lawyers and law firms than we can handle.  We also cannot be everywhere at once.  The article below provides some basic concepts for people we cannot help, but who want to know what other options they may have. 

    We cannot give you legal advice -- you should consult a local attorney or bar organization for that purpose.  That's part of how lawyers and their bar organizations limit competition, and also deflect criticism or complaints against lawyers.  And, while clients and the public are right to be suspicious of self-regulation by lawyers, one way to make that system better is to encourage bar organizations to fulfill their responsibilities and honor the commitments they've made to the public in exchange for extraordinary control of the legal economy.

What's a Client to Do?

    Many clients of lawyers have a positive experience, but many more seem to have one or more problems.  And every client or potential client has questions, or should.  It could be a problem with fees, with the results, with the burdens of discovery, with the delays, or with the irrationality of the system.  Often they blame the lawyer for the problem, but don't know what to do about it.  Maybe it's not the lawyer's fault at all -- they just don't know.  They also feel that the entire legal system is designed to protect its own -- they don't know who to turn to or what to do.  Clients, even large corporations, also feel that if they ask their lawyer questions or doubt their lawyer, the lawyer will retaliate against them. 

    No matter how sympathetic or irrational the situation may be, there are also times when the lawyer or legal system is not wrong or to be blamed.  Sometimes you just need to move along.

    While every issue is not alike, here are some common ways to address the problems with lawyers we see most often:

  • If you think you have been a victim of legal malpractice, the normal remedy is a new lawsuit for malpractice.  It is generally not malpractice simply for a lawyer to lose -- the question is usually whether the lawyer was negligent in representing you and it caused you harm.  Your first step is to try to locate a lawyer who handles such cases in your area.

    • Check with local bar referral sources to find a lawyer who handles this type of claim.  Helpful links appear below.

      • It is normal for clients to be concerned that the system will protect its own.  There are, however, lawyers who will sue lawyers -- just find the right one.

      • Lawyers who prey on their clients will rely on every trick of their trade to avoid liability -- clients seeking to pursue a legal malpractice claim must be prepared for a grueling experience.

    • Even if a lawyer says he or she cannot help you, ask them for a referral to someone who can.

    • You should not delay -- even a valid claim can be lost simply because you waited too long.

    • Certain types of malpractice can also be an ethics violation, so you can also contact a bar organization.  Keep in mind, however, that the bar is looking for evidence of an ethical violation, which is not necessarily the same as malpractice.

    • Many examples of incompetent, unethical, or unnecessarily expensive legal services are not malpractice -- malpractice is not just a mistake.

  • If you think a lawyer has done something unethical, the normal remedy is to report him or her to the state bar organization, which should have a separate committee or group that investigates and disciplines lawyers.

    • Your complaint normally must be in writing and you must provide enough detail for the bar to identify the lawyer, investigate the complaint, and determine whether it might involve an ethics violation.

    • As with malpractice claims, there are many situations in which lawyers make mistakes, behave badly, or charge more than you can afford that are not unethical.

    • One advantage of the ethics complaint is that the bar provides the resources to investigate and prosecute the complaint -- the client still have to invest time, but not as much as a malpractice complaint normally entails.

    • Here is a source for many state bar organization websites at the ABA website.  

  • If your problem is legal fees, many bar organizations have some form of arbitration to resolve those disputes.

    • Some of these are very good, producing reasonable results for little or no investment.

    • Others have been completely co-opted by the worst offenders.  Sorry, but we don't have a list of which are which.  You need to ask around and be skeptical.

    • Most arbitrations are binding even if informal.  You should consult with a lawyer or be sure you understand all the implications of arbitration.

    • Although ethical rules are supposed to keep fees reasonable, most bars ignore most billing disputes because they are so numerous and establishing an unethical fee with vague rules is almost impossible, absent outright fraud or theft.

  • These are not all the possibilities for disputes between lawyers and clients -- some may be criminal or involve other types of problems.  Contact the state bar, another lawyer, or both to discuss your option.

  • Some other suggestions:

    • Act promptly, while things are still fresh in your mind and before time deadlines might pass.

    • Be specific and detailed.

    • Be patient.  Not every delay is due to a global conspiracy among lawyers.

    • Get things in writing and save them.

    • Don't threaten -- either act or don't act, but threats rarely help.

    • Be careful who you repeat your story to.  Many lawyers threaten clients with defamation, libel, and slander suits because the client publishes his or her complaint.

    • Consult with a local attorney and bar organization for advice.

    • Visit our free blog for the client's perspective on the legal system and lawyers.



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Last update: 01/07/15

Established 1993

Our 22nd Year  Civilian's Guide to Lawyers (the Blog)

For more information, contact our Marketing Director,
Elizabeth McGee
The Devil's Advocate, PO Box 8, Great Falls, Virginia 22066 (USA)
Phone: (703) 684-6996 * Fax: (202) 499-7011 * E-mail: Devil's Advocate

Conditions for site use & important notices
The Devil's Advocate is a registered trademark, and Independent Counsel, Civilian's Guide to Lawyers, the Client-Friendly Billing Agreement, and the Client Bill of Rights™ are trademarks of The Devil's Advocate or licensed to DA.
All materials in this web-site copyright January, 2015 by The Devil's Advocate (licensed to Devil's Advocate, LLC a/k/a TLF Consulting). All rights reserved.
We do not provide legal advice by e-mail or through this site.  We do not provide legal representation.  All DA engagements must be in writing.
The information in this website represents our opinions (or opinions of others) and is believed to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that they apply to your situation.

Visit Devil's Advocate for legal fee management and litigation consulting, including legal bill reviews, expert testimony, legal malpractice, and lawyer ethics issues

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