My Tale Of Caution

My tale of caution is to ask any prospective lawyer what their succession plan is.
What if the worst thing happens, and your lawyer dies/gets too sick to work during your case?
Who takes over your lawyer’s workload?
– If your lawyer works as part of a group, what is the plan? Do NOT let the plan be the Oregon State Bar Association’s Professional Liability Fund.
o How does the back-up lawyer know your lawyer is incapacitated?
o Will the back-up lawyer be coming to your case cold?
o Are there processes to update the back-up once in a while?
– If your lawyer works in an office by themselves, what is the plan? Do NOT let the plan be the Oregon State Bar Association’s Professional Liability Fund.
o What is the name and phone of the potential back-up? Ensure this is part of your case file.
o How does the back-up lawyer know your lawyer is incapacitated?
o Will the back-up lawyer being coming at this cold?
o Are there processes to update the back-up once in a while?

My story:
My lawyer got us started in the Conservatorship process with a First Annual Accounting. Of course, this process was so complicated that I was at the mercy of my lawyer telling me what to do.
Two things a Conservator has to do every year is file a report saying what happened with every penny that the protected person owns, and get and keep a Bond to ensure the protected person gets their money back if the Conservator makes a large enough error. These two things make sense, nobody wants the Conservator to run off with the protected person’s money. Every new Conservator/Guardian also has to take court ordered classes. I took these classes, they were of little help, and covered none of the differences between a Conservator for a spouse, or a Conservator for someone more removed e.g.: mother-in-law, aunt, uncle, friend, …

My lawyer submitted, and the court accepted, our first annual accounting of my wife’s assets. I kept telling my lawyer, “There is no such thing as her stuff, and my stuff. We both worked outside the home, and we pooled our money in one checking, and one savings account.” We’d been married 20 years at the time, and we had done this even when we were just living together. No matter, the court doesn’t recognize that, they need to be told what’s hers, as opposed to what’s mine, and put that in the report. So we made some stuff up. My idea was keep going, this lawyer knows our situation, and probably it’s just my thick head that doesn’t get this.

Then my lawyer got sick, sick enough to completely stop working without notice. No one had the responsibility, or compassion, to let me know that this lawyer was no longer able to practice. I didn’t know that my lawyer was sick. Weeks later I got an email from the Bond company saying, it’s time to pay your Bond premiums. The Bond company wrote to myself and my lawyer. Stupid me, I wrote back to the Bond company, and the lawyer asking questions about how this bond worked, and what exactly was this bond going to do for this spousal situation? Of course the lawyer never wrote back, but neither did the Bond company. Someone at the bond company should have written back saying, ‘we don’t know why your lawyer isn’t writing to you, but you’d better pay this bond premium because it’s a huge deal if our coin operated legal system doesn’t get this cash’. But, again, apparently, that was no one’s responsibility, and no one in the process had the compassion to write me. Instead the bond was cancelled. After all of this, it’s still no one’s responsibility to tell me the bond had been cancelled. So, months later, I got a notice from the court that I was due in court, soon, to explain why I had no bond, and I had better get a lawyer! At the same time, I got a letter from Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund (PLF) “… withdrawing [my lawyer] from his active cases. Because of his health issues… ORPC 1.16(a).” That’s it.
– My lawyer said we were going to use this particular Bond company, in Portland, because he considered himself friends with this particular bonding agent. But the bond company never stepped up to say you’re waiting for our “friend” to respond, and while you wait you’re walking right in to a shit storm!
– PLF is apparently so worried about their liability that there is zero explanation from them.
Nothing even remotely personal like, [my lawyer] is very sorry to have to quit on all of their clients,
[my lawyer] is very sick, we wish him well, but that is really all we can say.
The PLF says nothing. I think if I was a lawyer, and I knew this was how the PLF worked, I’d stop paying into the fund.

To add insult to injury, now I am in desperate need of a lawyer. I called three, and they all said, nope, we are too busy. I found out later, that these lawyers may, or may not have been busy, mostly it was the reduced leadtime to get my case back on track that they were afraid of.

Finally I called the Bonding company… she was very cold -you know the person who was “friends” with my previous lawyer. She told me, on the phone, that if I didn’t get this one particular law office to represent me, she would not issue me a bond.

I was getting frantic, it was getting close to the time that I should appear, in court, to explain why I let the bond lapse, why I didn’t have an attorney, and where was my next yearly report!?

Finally, the law office that the bond company told me I had to use said they would take my case. They’ve done an OK job, except they have several times mentioned that it was completely my fault for letting the bond and the yearly report lapse. No mention of the fact that I was still new to this process, and MY LAWYER QUIT!
– No surprise that the current law office chose to go back to the bond company that said I had to use this law office. I asked my new lawyers if this was the only bond company in Portland, and they said ‘Oh no, there are quite a few. But we’re “friends” with this one.’

My warnings:
– Question your lawyer’s succession plan.
o Is there one?
o Who is the back-up lawyer? How do I contact them, if I have to? How long since I heard from my current lawyer, should I wait before contacting the back-up?
o Does the back up know they are backing you up?
o Will the back up be coming at my case cold?
Will they get periodic briefs about my case? How often?
What’s the process for them to take over?
My lawyers, and the actions of the court, made it perfectly clear that it was my fault that my first lawyer got sick and quit during the early parts of a process that is so complicated that no one will let you attempt it without a lawyer.

– There is real fear of judges among lawyers. Your lawyer cannot explain anything to the judge. Nobody in this process wants to work they just want, and expect, that everything will go EXACTLY like it did last time. ‘We are all too busy and important to color outside the lines for your stupid case.’

– There is real fear, by all parties of the money person. In my case it was the bond company (which I believe is a racket). No one would attempt to explain, or soften the vindictive attitude of this bully. We were all cowed, and played (are playing) this game according to the bond company’s whims. My lawyers made it clear to me that I should be more afraid of crossing the bond company than I should be afraid of crossing the courts.

– There are no friends in the legal business. Your lawyer might have friends at home, but at work there are only people that they bully, and people who are bullied by them. Don’t agree to anything your lawyer wants because they are “friends” “we work with them all the time”.

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